It is the vocabulary one expects from a French intellectual in the first years of the Fifth Republic: oblivion, the abyss, la mort. There’s a quest for authenticity, with the writer claiming “sincerity” as his ultimate aim. The war years loom large, even as the nation settles into an era of prosperity. But instead of the heroic existentialist writer holding the line against nothingness, we encounter a beguiling magician, a brilliant prankster preoccupied with word games and puzzles, a master illusionist with an introspective bent: Georges Perec, that inimitable amalgam of Kafka and the daily crossword, whose sensibility spans opposing poles of profundity and artifice. Among the ghosts of twentieth-century novelists that still haunt us, his takes its place as the group’s ingenious poltergeist, albeit one with a rather melancholy aura. The unruly shrub of hair, the sly grin, the tender, somewhat sad gaze: Perec figures as the impish wordsmith confronting a fathomless void, as if Sartre had cloaked himself in the guise of Pierrot.
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