Posted by: Sally Ingraham | November 6, 2010

1 – Which finds my copy of ‘A Void’ chock full of gold ink and onion skin

In theory I intended to write several pieces about my current Perec read during the week+ that Richard picked for a discussion of it – Oct. 29th through Nov. 7th. In reality I am going to manage only one post at the very last minute, and it’s going to be scattered and not very preceptive at that. I hope to write more at a later date.

I haven’t actually managed to finish the book yet. I am blown away by the ‘verbal stunt’ that is it’s e-lessness (yup, as I keep telling my friends, you heard me correctly – there isn’t an e to be seen in the thing) and delighted by Perec’s weird plot twists and liberal borrowing from other works (fitting that he uses Poe’s character Dupin as well as the squeal-worthy re-write of The Raven after my recent Poe immersion!) Perec is fun to say the least, if incomprehensible at times. More incomprehensible at some times than others. I’m actually finding the book overall a bit of a roller-coaster – absolute peaks of brilliant storytelling followed by utterly murky plot meanderings… It’ll all come together in the end. I’m rather obsessively highlighting every instance of the phrase “a void” and am wondering if I should have been taking note of the “avoid”s too, convinced as I am that the number of them might matter. (And what about “avoirdupois” on p. 95??) Perec makes me crazy!

My slips of paper mark Dupin’s appearance, Karamazov’s cameo, and most hilariously to me so far, a line out of W. C. Field’s short film The Fatal Glass of Beer. Perec’s version – On a stormy night Ottaviani the policeman stumbles into a bar and is greeted with these words:

“Hullo, hullo,” says Romuald, a barman who, though always at work, is always smiling: “aint a fit night out for man nor animal”

E-less, the line reads “animal” but my mind immediately replaced the word with “beast” and suddenly I was sitting in a dark theater surrounded by happy, tipsy co-workers at our year-end party, watching W. C. Fields walk repeatedly out his front door into a burst of fake cornflake snow, while uttering ponderously “aint a fit night out for mannnnnn nor beeeaaaast”.

Perec’s works are treasure-troves, and what you find in them differs for every person based on what you’ve seen and read and experienced. I’m happy to be digging here once again, even if I don’t see every glint of gold or dash of diamond as I sift through the rich earth!

For those of you who haven’t seen it, for a laugh, do watch The Fatal Glass of Beer:

More on A Void later. 🙂


  1. Like you, I thought the wordplay was the best part of the book. I loved his riff on “The Raven”–all those poems in that section were such fun! And I agree that the plot is mostly bewildering, but it gets better (although I never did get all the characters straight).

    • I’m not kidding about squealing over the The Black Bird – it was delightful. I’m still working through the second half, so I’ll just have to take your word that it gets better – not that it is bad, really, The odd sentence structure is starting to give me weird dreams though, I think…!

  2. I loved the Poe stuff, Sarah, but I had no idea about the W.C. Fields references–how funny! I also found A Void a bit of a “rollercoaster,” with the puns and etc. providing the ups and the story itself often providing the downs. Like you, I’m not sure how much else I might have missed, though!

    • It’s definitely a rougher ride than Life a User’s Manual, and perhaps in spite of the brilliance of its verbal stunt it lacks a bit in the brilliant storytelling area… I’m still enjoying it though.

  3. I’m glad to read a slightly more invigorated post on A Void, Sarah, as I still hope to read and enjoy this book in French someday, although now that I’ve read Richard’s and Teresa’s posts I won’t be expecting the brilliance of Life A User’s Manual. Still, the wordplay alone seems worthwhile!

    • I do find Perec most invigorating – even when he is less than brilliant. Here the episodic stories within the story are less intriguing (and more puzzling) than those in Life A User’s Manual, and Perec loses me occasionally, but I am still delighted by his playfulness. I like word games after all, and this entire book is one big word game!

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