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A Void / Perec, Georges ; Gilbert Adair, translator., 1994

Identifier: CC-04754-4843

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Scope and Contents

First published in French as "La Disparition," this novel is written without the using the letter "e" in any of the words. The Sackner Archive holds the French edition which is written the same way. Books written by Adair, a British writer, and published by Writers Forum, are also held by the Sackner Archive. The following is a review of this book from Case Western Reserve University English Department in 1997 that was copied from their Internet site in 1999. Anton Vowl is missing. Slain or just put away, nobody knows, but a similar void now looms for his pals as that group frantically hunts A Void's lost protagonist. Anton is missing also a singular ABC, which graphic mark ought to form part of a sound Vowl and a common "Vowl" sound. Arranging for many such omissions in this book is our lurking author, a lipogrammatic artist and assassin who both plots Vowl's doom and plucks his customary signatorial pictograph. The author is the late Georges Perec, who in 1969 took up the challenge of producing an entire novel without once using the letter "e." Such writings are called lipograms, from a Greek verb meaning "omit," and indeed the form dates from classical Greece. The modern revival of lipograms owes much to a group of Parisian experimentalist writers known as OuLiPo. Perec, Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau and others devoted themselves to all kinds of elaborately artificial compositional devices. Why would writers restrict themselves so outlandishly, doing in French without "le" and "je" (and in English without "the" and "me")? Partly, it is a game, of course, and much of the pleasure to be found in Perec's work comes from appreciating his wit and ingenuity. In addition, Perec maintains in his "Postscript" that the constraint was "not a handicap, not a constriction, but, all in all, a spur to my imagination." E-less composition is as daunting in English as in French, but in A Void Gilbert Adair brilliantly recreates Perec's La disparition, transposing many of the puns, word games and parodies while adding several gems of his own. Where Perec gave us vowel-challenged versions of Verlaine and Hugo, Adair strikes surgically at Hamlet's soliloquy ("Living or not living") and offers a wonderfully ersatz Poe, here renamed as Poe's own e-less hero, Arthur Gordon Pym. "'Sybil,' said I, "thing of loathing -- sybil, fury in bird's clothing! By God's radiant kingdom soothing all man's purgatorial pain, Inform this soul laid low with sorrow if upon a distant morrow It shall find that symbol for -- oh for its too long unjoin'd chain -- Find that pictographic symbol, missing from its unjoin'd chain' Quoth that Black Bird, 'Not Again' "And my Black Bird, still not quitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On that pallid bust -- still flitting through my dolorous domain; But it cannot stop from gazing for it truly finds amazing That, by artful paraphrasing, I such rhyming can sustain -- Notwithstanding my lost symbol I such rhyming still sustain-- Though I shan't try it again!" Adair keeps Perec's plot, which spoofs the whodunit adroitly enough that at least one of the original French reviewers is reported not to have noticed the lack of e's. The report is a little hard to believe. for hardly three pages go by without some nudging reference. For example, the characters keep coming across groups of 26 items, of which the fifth is always missing (as it is from among A Void' chapters). The translator obliges himself to hew to a story line which Perec was free to make up as he want along. Yet the novel's main events--deaths and disappearances--are all carefully linked to the compositional device. Moreover, the characters themselves dimly sense that, under penalty of the unspeakable word "death," they are banned from referring to e's or even perceiving them. Anton thus keeps squinting at a figure he cannot quite make out in his carpet. And another character directly recognizes that they are doomed "for not managing to grasp it, for not howling out a tiny, insignificant sound that would, for good and all, bring to an abrupt conclusion this Saga in which all of us must play our part." Like many books that focus on the writing more than the written-about, A Void often prefers cleverness to depth, and even virtuoso stylistic performances can grow tiresome after many pages. Yet as one of Perec's characters insists when at one point he imagines precisely the sort of book in which he exists, "such a work of fiction would not allow a solitary lazy or random or fortuitous word, no approximation, no padding and no nodding." It should be noted that Ernest Vincent Wright in the novel "Gadsby" also wrote a novel without the letter 'e' in 1939. -- Source of annotation: Marvin or Ruth Sackner.


  • Creation: 1994



0 See container summary (1 hard cover book (285 pages) in dust jacket) ; 22.3 x 14.2 x 2.7 cm

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Physical Location

box shelf

Custodial History

The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, on loan from Ruth and Marvin A. Sackner and the Sackner Family Partnership.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, 1995.


Published: London, England : Harvill. Nationality of creator: French. General: Added by: CONV; updated by: MARVIN.

Repository Details

Part of the The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry Repository

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