“53 Days”

Georges Perec, the celebrated author of Life: A User’s Manual (Godine, 1987) and A Void, was working on this “literary thriller” at the time of his death. He had fully completed only eleven chapters of a planned twenty-eight, but left extensive drafts and notes supplying the rest of the mystery, as well as numerous twists and subplots. From these notes, his friends and fellow novelists Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud have assembled the elements of the unfinished mystery, along the way providing the reader with a fascinating view into the author’s mind as he constructed his literary conundrum.

Absorbing, allusive, and joyously playful, “53 Days” is the ultimate detective story. The narrator, a teacher in a tropical French colony, is trying to track down the famous crime-writer Robert Serval, who has mysteriously disappeared. Serval has left behind the manuscript of his last, unfinished novel, which may contain clues to his fate. From this beginning, Perec lures the reader into a labyrinth of mirror-stories whose solutions can only be glimpsed before they in turn recede around the corner.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Perec’s “53 Days” is a supremely satisfying, engrossing, and truly original mystery. Like his previous work, it is also “a kaleidoscope of ingenious juxtapositions” (Le Monde) from one of the century’s most inventive and important writers. As Harry Mathews has commented, “If death had not prevented Georges Perec from completing this book, we would today be reading a masterpiece, one in the mold of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

Praise for “53 Days”

The novel’s very incompletion allows the reader, who will be equally fascinated by the finished chapers and the jottings, the notes, to understand something of how Geroge Perec—with his intuitions, imagination, memories, and culture—put together a novel.
La Vie des Livres

Georges Perec (March 7, 1936 in Paris–March 3, 1982 in Ivry-sur-Seine) was a French novelist, filmmaker, documentalist, and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. His father died as a soldier early in the Second World War and his mother was killed in the Holocaust, and many of his works deal with absence, loss, and identity, often through word play.

Harry Mathews was born in New York City and educated at the Groton School, Princeton University, and Harvard University. Soon after graduating from Harvard in 1952, he moved to France with his family. He later became the first American to join the French avant-garde literary society Oulipo. He met the author Georges Perec through Oulipo, and the two translated some of each other’s writings. Mathews is currently married to the writer Marie Chaix and divides his time between Paris, Key West, and New York.

David Bellos is Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of French Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University in the United States. He is also director of Princeton’s Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. In 2005, he won the first Man Booker International Prize for translation for his translations of the Albanian author Ismail Kadare. In addition to his Man Booker Prize, he holds the rank of Officier in the Ordre national des Arts et des Lettres and an honorary membership in The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters.