THINGS and A MAN ASLEEP by Georges Perec


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The late Perec (Life: A User's Manual, 1987; W or the Memory of Childhood, 1988) published these two short, modernist, sociopsychological novels in France in the 60's, both about people temporarily paralyzed--albeit in contradictory ways--by their unwillingness to be cogs in the 20th-century machine. A Man Asleep appears here in English for the first time, Things (1968--Grove) in a new translation by David Bellos. JÉrome and Sylvie, the upwardly mobile married protagonists of Things, thirst for a higher standard of living rather than knowledge; they quit college and--unwilling to commit themselves to full-time work--become free-lance market researchers. With leisure to savor Parisian life, but without income equal to their dreams, they find themselves ""up to their necks in a cream cake from which they would only ever be able to nibble crumbs."" In a narrative without dialogue, almost without incident, JÉrome and Sylvie are brought to life through descriptions of their work, their leisure activities and--most of all--by the loving recitation of consumer goods they do possess and those they wish they did. While Things makes frequent reference to popular culture, A Man Asleep is rich in literary echoes. Its sociology student protagonist lives in grinding poverty. Unlike Sylvie and JÉrome, who covet everything around them, this man sees only pointlessness and futility. Succumbing to a severe depression, he abandons his studies and attempts to live a ""canceled life""--thinking to achieve paradoxical mastery through indifference. Meticulous detail and neutral detachment; strange, dispassionate, often unnerving.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1990
Publisher: Godine