Puckish and playful, Georges Perec infused avant-garde and experimental fiction with a wit and wonder that belied the serious concerns and concepts that underpinned it. A prominent member of the OuLiPo, and an abiding influence on fiction writers today, Perec used formal constraints to dazzling effect in such works as A Void—a murder mystery that contains nary an “e”—and Life A User’s Manual, in which an apartment building, systematically canvassed, unfolds secrets and, ultimately offers a reflection on creation, destruction, and the devotion to art.
Before embarking on these experiments, however, Perec tried his hand at a relatively straightforward novel, Portrait of a Man. His first book, it was rejected by publishers when he submitted it in 1960, after which he filed it away. Decades after Perec’s death, David Bellos discovered the manuscript, and through his translation we have a chance to enjoy it in English for the first time. What fans will find here is a thriller that combines themes that would remain prominent in Perec’s later work, such as art forgery, authenticity, and murder, as well as craftsman Gaspard Winckler, who whose namesakes play major roles in Life A User’s Manual and W or The Memory of Childhood.
Engaging and entertaining on its own merits, and gaining additional interest when set in the context of Perec’s career, Portrait of a Man is sure to charm the many fans of this postmodern master.