Life, A User’s Manual / Georges Perec

11 Rue Simon-Crubellier is the address of an upscale apartment building in the heart of Paris and the primary setting of Georges Perec’s ambitious novel.  He takes the reader on an exploration of its every room, stairway, and landing.  The book is a detailed description of furnishings, accumulated clutter, and most importantly, the life histories of past and current occupants.  No object is too insignificant to go unrecorded.  One tenant stands out, Bartlebooth, a wealthy eccentric who has taken on a highly unusual life project.  In early adulthood, he hires a famous artist to teach him how to paint.  After mastering the craft, he sets out to travel the world.  In selected locations, he chooses a single landscape to paint.  Once completed, the  painting is  sent back to Paris where an artisan cuts up the landscape and creates a jigsaw puzzle of it.  Reaching a targeted number of paintings, Bartlebooth returns to 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier and spends the remainder of his days reassembling the puzzles.  Once the landscape is whole, he destroys it.  His ultimate goal is to have nothing to show for his life’s work.  The apartment building is the jigsaw puzzle that the author attempts to piece together on the page.  Considering the fifty-five years of its existence, the task is a considerable one.  Perec, a French author, is to be commended for taking all the jumbled pieces and creating a completed picture.  With that tip of a hat, I must confess that I did not find the book an enjoyable read.  It became a chore wading through the wealth of detail he presents.  Soon overwhelmed, I found myself hurrying through the endless inventory to get to the good parts.  For me, those were the life stories of the building’s past and current occupants.  From the 1920s up to 1975, these people represented in a microcosm the events taking place on the world stage.  There are readers who will delight in this novel’s minutiae, the catalog of objects that can run for pages.  I acknowledge the craftsmanship it to took to envision and compose  such a book.  Notwithstanding, I lost interest in this puzzle long before the final piece was dropped into place.


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