“One of the great novels of the century. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the late 20th century has produced a novel on the level of Joyce, Proust, Mann, Kafka, and Nabokov.”—Boston Globe
Structured around a single moment in time — 8:00 p.m. on June 23, 1975 — Perec’s spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, an extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or (sometimes) quite ordinary. 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, from the fears of an ex-croupier to the dreams of a sex-change pop star to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime, Life is a manual of human irony, portraying the mixed marriages of fortunes, passions and despairs, betrayals and bereavements, of hundreds of lives in Paris and around the world.
But the novel is more than an extraordinary range of fictions; it is a closely observed account of life and experience. The apartment block’s one hundred rooms are arranged in a magic square, and the book as a whole is peppered with a staggering range of literary puzzles and allusions, acrostics, problems of chess and logic, crosswords, and mathematical formula. All are there for the reader to solve.
Praise for Life A User’s Manual
Those who have a taste for the unusual, for books that create worlds unto themselves, will be dazzled by this crazy-quilt monument to the imagination.
—The New York Times Book Review
In this wondrously optimistic book, he sidles through the lives of the inhabitants of a single Paris apartment block and manages to convey scintillas of every aspect of the human condition—proving that, while ultimately without point, life is a continuum rich beyond belief, and so very well worth living.
—The Week Magazine
This elaborate jigsaw puzzle of a novel has drawn comparisons to the masterworks of twentieth-century literature.
A classic of contemporary fiction.
Perec’s artistry has achieved a perfect balance between allure and imponderability.
—The Los Angeles Times