Listen to this article
A Void, by Georges Perec, translated by Gilbert Adair, Vintage 2008, Cover by Jo Walker
A Void, which originally saw publication in 1969, is lipogrammatic. That is, its author was working with a particular linguistic constraint: opting to forgo inclusion of a solitary graphical symbol from start to finish. Words containing “a”, “i”, “o” and “u” might crop up but not any using that group’s fifth factor.
This is a tricky act to pull off in his own Gallic lingo, and just as awkward for an Anglophonic translator. Luckily both individuals do a fantastic job (no doubt with significant utilisation of a dictionary of synonyms). A Void trots along smoothly and naturalistically, boasting many a comic turn and cunning allusion. Now and again it falls back on circumlocution and roundabout phrasing to avoid pitfalls, but forgivably.
Apropos plot, this is outwardly plain and prosaic but also twistingly artful. A man, Anton Vowl, an aficionado of books and conundrums, is AWOL, having bafflingly run away from his flat in Paris. Various bosom pals hunt for him, with aid from his library and diary.
Fatal blows fall upon our band of voluntary bloodhounds, until at last an obvious truth is brought to light: Vowl is an illusory quarry. For clarification as to what confounds his chums, all – including anybody poring through this book – must grasp how its author has skilfully slid a fictional fraud past us, brilliantly bamboozling and wrong-footing us throughout.
For its front illustration in this particular imprint, a fitting typographical ploy is brought into play. Two words loom from nothing. Around, A Void’s taboo hallmarks swirl in big and small fonts, tumbling downwards to form a crowd of discards, a mass of that which, within, its author has fought to do without.
Sporting warm colours – pink, maroon, fuchsia, crimson, ruby – it’s an illustration that looks good. It also pithily mimics motifs of loss, atrophy, vacancy and scarcity, all of which run through this ambitious work, that fashions a solid product from hollow parts.
Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published