Perec's Unfinished Books

Even wonder what Georges Perec would have written if he hadn’t died of cancer at 45? At Words Without Borders Laird Hunt gives some idea of literature’s loss:

In December 1976 Georges Perec, who wrote, both copiously and brilliantly as it occurred, put a remarkable document into the hands of Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, founder of the wonderful independent French house P.O.L. In it, Perec had set down not just the works he was in the process of writing and/or would write, but also those he planned to write and wouldn’t. . . .

What was in this document? A partial enumeration will give a sense. Among the projected works Perec did complete were the famous jigsaw novel, Life A User’s Manual, and Je me souviens, Perec’s volume of “banal memories, belonging to all”, which was based on Joe Brainard’s noted I Remember tryptich. Among the projected works Perec did not complete were The Book of 2000 Sentences, a novel composed of the 2000 most common sentences in the French language; The Novel of the 19th Century, which would create a narrative quilt of excerpts taken from an anthology of classics like Chateaubriand, Stendahl and Zola; another “big book”, The Tree – the story of Esther and her Brothers, which was to have taken the form of a biographical dictionary and an exploded family tree; and additional translations of the vertiginous work of a fellow Oulipian, the American Harry Mathews.

It’s interesting to note that Rex by Jose Manuel Prieto somewhat follows on in Perec’s footsteps. In books like Life: A User’s Manual Perec created something along the lines of a “narrative quilt” by working in quotations from great works of literature, without quotes or attribution. Something similar happens in Rex, though Prieto does bold the quotes so you know they’re not his words per se. The narrative conceit for the introduction of these quotes in Rex is that the narrator thinks they’re all from Proust, though of course they aren’t. (An afterword lays out the sources, though it’s also fun to guess while you’re reading.) This has some affinity with Perec, as you can read the “Proust” character in Rex as something akin to “literature.”

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