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This article is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

Perec's Puzzling Style David Bellos

What I have to say is much the same as Théophile Gautier had to say about the style of Honoré de Balzac: il avait le style nécessaire, fatal et mathématique de son idée. Perec's puzzling style is the necessary, mathematical and precise corollary of his style of puzzling. The first part of this essay concerns Perec's style of puzzling in his masterwork, La Vie mode d'emploi, (1978) recently published in English under the title Life A User's Manual. The second deals directly with Perec's puzzling style. In the third and final part I will bring the two together and confuse the issues.

Georges Perec insisted on many occasions - for instance, in conversation with Bernard Pivot on the television programme Apostrophes - that the image or model or metaphor of the puzzle (and in French the word puzzle always means a jigsaw puzzle) was fundamental 'for explaining the construction' of his great book, La Vie mode d'emploi. However, the image of the humble jigsaw puzzle goes back, in Perec's thinking, to a much earlier stage in his career. The first reference to puzzles that I know of in Perec's writing occurs in an as-yet unpublished lecture which he gave by invitation at the University of Warwick, just twenty years ago, when he was a celebrated author already, but celebrated for the sociological acuity of his first published novel, Les Choses.

He spoke there of the jigsaw puzzle not as an image of any particular work, ...

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