The Girl Booker

The Girl Booker

Friday, December 28, 2012


Georges Perec's The Art And Craft Of Approaching Your Head Of Department To Submit A Request For A Raise is exactly the type of book I would have chosen to write an essay about at uni. The main reason I would have chosen it is because the title is so long that reaching the required word count would be an absolute doddle. A secondary fact in the book's favour is that it is only 84 pages long. Added to which, the whole book is one entire, absurdly long sentence with no commas or colons. I cannot think of more perfect undergraduate study fodder.

To be completely honest, it did feel at times a little like I was reading it because I had to. If it had been very much longer I might not have persevered. The gimmick of no full stops is cute, but it certainly makes one appreciate them. Reading a sentence that goes on and on becomes a tad irritating after a while. There were just about enough glimmers of humour to save it, but having read it once I wouldn't bother again. The device is useful as a way of making the reader feel as full of frustration and ennui and soul-deadened as the central character ('you'), but on the downside, it made me feel somewhat frustrated, soul-deadened and full of ennui.

The Art And Craft Of Approaching Your Head Of Department To Submit A Request For A Raise is successful inasmuch as it proves Perec's cleverness and originality as a writer. It is less successful as an enjoyable read. So count yourselves lucky that I went to the trouble to read it and blog about it; you can now discuss the book at dinner parties and thoroughly impress you friends, without having to go through the tedious business of actually reading the thing.

Whatever you think of his hairstyling choices, you certainly can't fault the man's literary inventiveness. I also read Things, A Story Of The Sixties this week, which is a completely different sort of book from The Art and Craft.... It is one of the few re-reads on my Classics Club list.

I first read Things about 15 years ago and loved it. Something about it utterly seduced me, even though I was aware that I was supposed to find the central characters vapid, silly, flakey and somewhat pathetic. In my second reading of the book, I was bowled over by how obviously I had missed the point the first time around but I eventually figured out why. I had read the book as a teenager who was longing for life to happen. Even though the things and events and objects of Things are shown to be meaningless and empty, they were still more colourful and exiting than my life was at that time.

Perec absolutely nails that lust for experience, for stuff and for status, and I think I responded to the feeling of longing for fulfillment as much as anything else. I'm glad I took the time to re-read Things because the experience was so much richer the second time around. It made me think about life and society and experiences and relationships. Read this book: if you feel ponderous, and if you want to feel refreshed.

Perec is most famous for having written an entire novel without using the letter E (A Void). What I think is even more of a head-fuck is that the English translation I have has also been written entirely without the letter E. I am looking forward to reading it sometime in the next few months, after a break from my bout of Perec-a-palooza.


  1. He's Julius Sumner Miller's long lost relative...or at least his hair is!
    (I tried really hard to make that a sentence with no 'e's or with no punctuation, but I can't help myself!)
    Loved the re-reading perspective.

  2. Thanks Bron. I am looking forward with some trepidation to the e-less book as I suspect it will be heavy going.