Sunday, September 2, 2012

P is for Percival Bartlebooth

I'm back in the AlphaBooks game after yet another lapse. Apologies to all for my recent spottiness-- I will fill in the gaps one of these days! This week's character is the somewhat maddening figure at the heart of Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual. 

I have a weakness for novels that knit together many concurrent threads of a certain time & place, capturing seemingly infinite subtleties from multiple angles, & Life is like that-- & then some. A puzzle of a book in many respects, it tells the story of an apartment block in Paris, including all of its rooms & residents, & though the plot doesn't proceed in the usual chronological fashion, it has a logic all its own.

Today's character, Percival Bartlebooth, can't decide what to do with his life & wealth until he hits on a curious & deliberately useless scheme: he will first spend 10 years learning to paint, then travel the world for 20 years painting watercolors at every port, which he will have converted to jigsaw puzzles by his neighbor in the apartment block. Then he will spend the next 20 years working the puzzles, removing the images from their backing, returning to the place where he painted the original painting, & washing off the paint to reveal once again the blank watercolor paper.

His odd & obsessive life story is but one of many that weave through this prodigiously inventive book. I urge you to give it a read. It's certainly not for everyone, but in me it provokes a very particular sort of mad fascination.

Acrylic on reversed jigsaw puzzle pieces & text (scanned from a 1987 Godine paperback, translation by David Bellos-- a revised edition is now available) ~6"x9"


  1. I've never heard of this book, or author, and appreciate the introduction. The illustration is plenty fascinating without any knowledge of the book, though. Another winner!

  2. Oh wow! if this is onlt 6"x9" it means the illustrations are tiny! Wow! This is so awesome!