With the American publication of Life: A User’s Manual in 1987, Georges Perec was immediately recognized in the U.S. as one of this century’s most innovative writers. Now, Godine is pleased to issue two of his most powerful novels in one volume: Things, in an authoritative new translation, and A Man Asleep, making its first English appearance. Both provoked strong reactions when they first appeared in the 1960s; both which speak with disquieting immediacy to the conscience of today’s readers. In each tale, Perec subtly probes our obsession with society’s trappings—the seductive mass of things that crams our lives, masquerading as stability and meaning.
Jerome and Sylvie, the young, upwardly mobile couple in Things, lust for the good life. “They wanted life’s enjoyment, but all around them enjoyment was equated with ownership.” Surrounded by Paris’s tantalizing exclusive boutiques, they exist in a paralyzing vacuum of frustration, caught between the fantasy of “the film they would have liked to live” and the reality of life’s daily mundanities.
In direct contrast with Jerome and Sylvie’s cravings, the nameless student in A Man Asleep attempts to purify himself entirely of material desires and ambition. He longs “to want nothing. Just to wait, until there is nothing left to wait for. Just to wander, and to sleep.” Yearning to exist on neutral ground as “a blessed parenthesis,” he discovers that this wish is by its very nature a defeat.
Accessible, sobering, and deeply involving, each novel distills Perec’s unerring grasp of the human condition and displays his rare comic talent. His generosity of observation is both detached and compassionate.
I once had the occasion to write to the translator of these books, David Bellos, and I took the opportunity to let him know that Perec is my favorite writer, and that, since a translator is to a large extent the creative force behind a translated work, he, David Bellos, is also, in a palpable way, my favorite writer. Few writers have opened up the possibilities of literary art with as much enthusiasm, mastery, and pleasure as Perec.
—Martin Riker, Associate Director of the Dalkey Archive Press