cover image A Void

A Void

Georges Perec. Harvill Press, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-00-271119-7

OuLiPians (members of Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle) once defined themselves as rats who must build the labyrinth from which they propose to escape. Perec's labyrinth in La Disparition was a lipogram omitting the letter ``e.'' Lipograms are an old device, but what makes Perec's effort unique is the length and the fact that, despite its experimental nature, this works as a fun book, a sort of spoof on detective fiction. When the troubled Anton Vowl mysteriously disappears, his friends, led by Amaury Conson, try to find clues. Gathered at the great house of Azincourt, they uncover forbidden passions, an ancient curse, unsuspected relationships and an unending supply of dead bodies. Amaury's search for Anton is a premise: the reader's real conundrum is untangling the logogriph of A Void's multiple hints and references. Some are numerical/alphabetical (there is no chapter five out of 26); some require knowledge of French and other literature (one lipogram without ``a''s or ``e''s is by fellow OuLiPian Raymond Queneau); others are simply amusing (``An amorphous mass of books and authors bombards his brain... La Disparition? Or Adair's translation of it?'') In A Void, Adair has proved himself an adept translator, one fully as comfortable with Perec's sense of absurd fun as with his language. (Feb.)