Sometimes there is a perfect time to read a book. Sometimes, there isn’t. One could argue that, perfectionism is another part of being vulnerable. Life is vulnerable. We are vulnerable to many different things, all the time and that what makes our lives vulnerable. However, there is no perfect time to read Georges Perec’s LIFE A USER’S MANUAL.
Perec begins this book by explaining what a jigsaw puzzle is, and makes a connection between the puzzle maker and the puzzle solver. Then the book, which is a puzzle itself, begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, and extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or quite ordinary.
Soon the plot concentrates on an eccentric English millionaire, Percival Bartlebooth, who has devised a way to waste his money and his life. He spends ten years taking watercolour lessons from Serge Valene, an artist and fellow resident at the apartment block (which has a hundred rooms arranged in a magic square), then spends 20 years travelling round the world, doing 500 watercolours in various ports, posting them back to the same building to be turned into jigsaws. He then spends the next 20 years completing the jigsaws, posting the watercolours back to the place they were created, the paper to be washed free of pigment in the very port they depict. Leaving behind nothing. A whole life lived with the intention of leaving nothing to show for itself.
You might think this ordinarily uncanny, and I say it is. That’s what life is. Ordinarily uncanny. From the confessions of a racing cyclist to the plans of an avenging murderer, from a young ethnographer obsessed with a Sumatran tribe to the death of a trapeze artist the plot goes on, as a collection of wide ranging stories all relative to some mutual human experience. Perec does a good work by closely observing an account of life and experience.
However, at a point the author’s focus on detailing in more than the driving plot ahead, it becomes tedious and dull and difficult to read. On describing hundred rooms, the descriptive narration becomes excess and the author has a habit of leaving out nothing by providing long lists of every room’s inventory. First few lists can be fascinating, but a hundred lists becomes a process tiresome process. I think Perec’s point here can be keenly observed, although it took him 581 pages to represent his point, that the things which we give so much importance in our lives remain as is after we die. Sometimes a man values these immobile objects enough than he forgets all about himself.
2 out of 5!