Review: A Void by Georges Perec

I’m back! After my last post here, I got sick and didn’t get around blogging every weekend like I used to. I also missed our weekly blog challenge (;_;). I decided to post a book review this time, since I haven’t posted any for a while.

A Void by Georges Perec was a novel originally written in French. Perec was a linguist who had a knack of experimenting different ways in writing language. For this novel, he wrote it without using a single word with the letter ‘e.’ That alone is mind-blogging, but when it was translated to English, it was a feat! Yes, the translator, Gilbert Adair, didn’t use the letter ‘e’ for translating this novel to English.

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A Void by Georges Perec, Vintage Classics edition, 2008

I actually bought my copy three years ago. I was in Singapore for work, and of course we did a little sightseeing. One of the places we went to was Kinokuniya, which is now one of my favorite bookstores. It was where I found this copy (and two more books ^_^).

First off, reading this book was very difficult. It had a strange tone–formal and quite wordy at times. This is likely because of its nature. English has a lot of words with ‘e’ in them, so to create a whole novel without it, you’d have to replace words that are more commonly used and easier to the reader. I found myself doing a translation while reading it, replacing a word with one that has the forbidden letter. Despite this, I eventually got a hang of it and its story.

A Void is about the sudden disappearance of Anton Vowl. Before he vanished, he had sent postcards to his friends with cryptic messages. His friends, some of whom weren’t even acquainted to each other, came together to solve the mystery–both of his disappearance and the queer messages they received. But as they delved deeper into it, they soon discovered Anton’s secrets and how it related to their own past.

The novel starts out slowly, taking its time to build everything in the beginning. Because it had several subplots, it tends to veer away from the main plot at times. But of course, all the loose strings came together at the end.

One of its main themes is fatalism, which I’m not a fan of. It just frustrates me whenever characters are put in a situation wherein they have ‘no control’ because of a curse or ill fate. It was unfortunate that the story had focused on this.

Other than that, the novel is still impressive given the challenge that was imposed by its author. It also feels fulfilling after finishing such a difficult read. I almost gave up on it a couple times, to be honest. It’s pretty amazing how writers come up with unique ways in telling a story, and it just shows how much we can do with literature.

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