Monday, June 09, 2008

book review - A Void

It would be foolhardy to pretend that this entire book makes immediate sense. But that does not make it any less enjoyable and as every page turns and the plot deepens you are not only engrossed but continually amazed that Georges Perec put this novel together without using a single ‘e’.

In a postscript the author admits that he was partly put up to the challenge as a bet by a friend but then as he started he discovered that it challenged his approach to writing and he became almost obsessional about the task.

The book starts following the thoughts of Anton Vowl who starts to note down thoughts in his diary about a void. He feels he is being sucked into the void and then sure enough he disappears. His small collection of friends meets and agrees that they will do their best to help solve the mystery.

They are connected initially by their mutual friendship with Vowl but as it unfolds they discover more intimate bloodlines flow between them and importantly with the missing man and that is why they all face the prospect of death.

One by one they either disappear or are killed. As the net tightens ironically the plot widens and events of the past are connected with the deaths and disappearances and a family feud is uncovered. Although there is a killer on the loose the void that the characters are falling into is the absence of e.

At the close of the book the character walking out of Proust, detective Swann, is happy killing the final victims, and even with the mystery solved there is a dark humour running through the book until the end. There are some hidden moments for those that have a knowledge of French literature with a nod to Poe and the Murder on the Rue Morgue as well as Proust. No doubt there are others but those were the two that I managed to recognise.

Most of the stuff about mathematics and philosophy did pass me by but in the end it is not as crucial to understanding the story and is part of Vowl’s world and setting up the idea that he is somehow trying to pinpoint the sense of the void. This only really starts to get going once Vowl has gone and the different characters meet at the country estate of one of Vowl’s acquaintances and discuss the case. Then one by one the different characters face up to their destiny and meet an odd and untimely death.

Ultimately though you either sign up for this experience or you don’t. Personally it was sometimes hard going and the pace that was caused by different and sometimes static language made it difficult to follow. But there is a story there and it emerges strongly at the climax. What is the point of language if it is not there to experiment with and play around with? Perec pushes it here all the way but does so with a smile and a great deal of intelligence.

This was more of a journey than most books but in the end the complex murder mystery and the void causes by the absence of e leave you deep in thought with the same smile Perec probably had on his face when he finished writing this.

Version read – Vintage paperback

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