Portrait of a man by Georges Perec

 

 

Portrait of a Man

Portrait of a man by Georges Perec

French fiction

Original title – Le Condottière

Translator – David Belios

Source – Review Copy

 

“Pay In Blood”

Well I’m grinding my life out, steady and sure
Nothing more wretched than what I must endure
I’m drenched in the light that shines from the sun
I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you done
Sooner or later you make a mistake,
I’ll put you in a chain that you never will break
Legs and arms and body and bone
I pay in blood, but not my own.
This lyric by Bob Dylan from his Tempest album Has Gaspard paid in blood ?

Well this is an important book , as it was only recently published in France after David Belios , Perec’s English translator had rediscovered this book as a carbon copy Perec had kept , the book was mentioned in one of his other books and thought lost .it was Perec’s debut n0vel which at the time he wrote it he couldn’t find a publisher for ,and had been thought lost till it was found again .It is also an important book for this blog as it marks the 500th book I have reviewed here and the 50th novel from French to be review , as I got near to 500 books review I decide this was the one that deserved the honour of being that book .Georges Perec , was brought up by his paternal aunt and uncle after his parents died in world war two .He studied history and sociology at the Sorbonne , whilst at the same time starting to write .This is also the time he started to write this book .

Madera was heavy .I grabbed him by the armpits and went backwards down the stairs to the laboratory .His feet bounced from tread to tread in a staccato rhythm that matched my own unsteady descent , thumping and banging around the narrow stairwell .Our shadows danced on the walls Blood was still flowing all sticky , seeping from the soaking wet towel

The opening lines grip you , what has happened ?

portrait of a man takes as its inspiration the painting that is on the front cover of the book portrait of a man / the condottiere (the French title of the novel ) by Antonelo da Mesina .he use a man who is forging painting by this guy as his character in this book Gaspard Winckler is a master forger , he is working for Madera , who has asked him to copy this one picture  whilst Gaspard has stuck in the background just painting .the book opens as we see Gaspard moving the dead body of Madera , which he has just killed .We follow what happened in two parts the first is formed of an internal monologue as Gaspard is waiting for the police to find him , the events that lead up to the murder .How he became a forger and met Madera  .the second half of the book follows Gaspard after he is arrest and is being interviewed by the police .Gaspard struggled to get the painting on the canvas in the same way as Mesina had , is this why he killed Madera .

“Yes …more or less obvious .Forging isn’t a trade .It’s more like a rut .You get stuck in it .You get drowned .You think things are still possible … But you get tripped up by your own rope-trick .things don’t exist anymore … It’s difficult to explain .. How can I say .. You always do the same thing , you explore the same paths over and over ,you hit the same blocks again and again .

Gaspard explaining to the police what it is like being a forger .

Now I for one am very wary of lost books , the has been a number of them in recent years and they often seem to be the scrapings of a writers life .So I was pleased when this book wasn’t that no this is a book , that maybe at the time it was written was to new for the French readers .Perec is of course known for being an experimental writer and a member of the oulipo group , is this book like those books ,yes and no .It is a different way to tell a story in the two parts that form the book with the internal and the external descriptions of what happen  .It is actually the most accessible book by Perec I have read .The big theme of the book is maybe being False , what are we ,how are we if we just copy , what is the truth behind the murder ? As with some of his later books he has twisted the crime thriller genre to make an interesting study on the human condition . A fitting choice for the 500th review by this blogger a rediscovered book that actually deserved to be published ironically his first book becomes his last book as well , a very Perec thing in a way (maybe that is what he had in mind keeping the carbon copy ?)

have you a favourite rediscovered book ?

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the art and craft of approaching you head of department to submit a request for a raise by Georges Perec

perec

the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise by Georges Perec

French fiction

Original title – L’Art et la manière d’aborder son chef de service pour lui demander une augmentation

Translator – David Bellos

Source – library book

Well as you can tell by the title this book is a little different .I have previously review his most famous book a life a user manual , a novel that works inch by inch through an Parisian house and the people who live their .Perec was a member of the Oulipo movement that like to challenge the writing using various devices .This book is from one such challenge a French computer expert in the sixties want to see if Perec could write out the various routes of a flow chart he had produced  and make it readable here is the result .Yes this flow chart as you may guess from the title is a guide on what is the best way to ask for a pay rise .

Having carefully weighed the pros and cons you grid up your loins and make up your mind top go and see your head of department to ask for a raise so you go to see your head of department let assume to keep things simple – for we must do our best to keep things simple – that his name is mr Xavier

so mr x is mr xavier actually the opening lines of the book .

The story follows an unnamed employee as he wants to as his head of department for a raise .The Head Mr x is some one he doesn’t know well ,but through the course of the story as the various ways ,times ,day he could approach Mr x are discussed we see the narrator construct  a life for his head of department has he a daughter, or four what happens if they have argued .Thus we see a man worrying about getting a raise and try to pick the absolute best time to do this task ! we see him work outr evry possible combination of outcomes .

watch the cafeteria menu because if fish is on the menu your line manager could easily swallow a fish bone and thereafter be in a really awful mood which will not be in your favour

Another option is before or after lunch to ask ?

 

I have always admire the Oulipo movement as in many ways it is hard enough to write ,but stay different and creative with follow a strict framework is harder .I was reminded in this book of the recent short novel by fellow Oulipo movement member Italo Calvino the castle of crossed destinies   where he like Perec in this used a device in that case build the story around a grouping of tarrot cards ,where as Perec has used the various outcomes on the flow chart to be the thoughts the narrator has as he awaits the right point to discuss his raise .That is it a short book 75 pages long neat translation by Bellos .An unusual idea but it works Perec has pulled of the challenge he was given .

Have you a favourite Oulipo movement book ?

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