17 August 2009

Book Review: A Void by Georges Perec

A Void Anton Vowl is missing, and his companions cannot find a hint as to his location. Anton's diary might avail, but its only bit of significant information is, again and again, allusion to a void. At a loss, Amaury Conson, Olga Mavrokhordatos, and Hassan Ibn Abbou try to throw a ray of light on this conundrum, but it's a bad day for a solicitor to hold Moroccan nationality....

Flying to a country manor (that of Olga's husband's papa), afraid of sharing Anton's doom, his pals hunt for a way to stay living. Which isn't straightforward; a zahir, a void, and an inability to discuss what's going on without risking instant annihilation all play a part in causing havoc. Bit by bit, that fatal void's origins will show, but will our protagonists triumph against this upshot of past acts?

Notice anything odd about that synopsis? That's right - it doesn't contain a single letter E ... and nor does the book. In its French or English versions. Witnessing the skill and dexterity of author and translator alike is so impressive, the book's worth reading for that alone. There is recourse to a little cheating - numerals, abbreviations, interruptions, retention of the original French for titles that would inevitably have contained an E in English. There's also an enormous amount of long-winded circumlocution, necessary I suppose to skirt around those pesky Es but frequently hard to wade through.

And the subplots! I suspect the author had a great deal of fun devising the craziest scenarios he could. It's all completely nonsensical, as is the prologue that doesn't seem to connect to anything that comes after it, and since nonsensical isn't my thing I could only take it in small doses. It left me feeling that it was far more a literary stunt than an actual story. But the E-less version of The Raven offered at least some compensation.

Rating: C+


Jenny said...

Brilliant! A book without Es! When we were in high school, my friend tim and I used to write each other notes that left out letters. But I think it would be far more fun to write than to read, for a whole novel.

CoversGirl said...

Nice to know me and my friends weren't the only ones doing geeky things with notes! It was codes in our case, though; but skipping letters would have been fun!

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776