hidden europe 58

Mind the Gap: Georges Perec and the Art of Constrained Writing

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: illustrations © Valerii Bogorod / dreamstime.com


From 1960, an unusual clutch of Parisian writers - known as the Oulipo group - played ingenious games with language. We take a look at the work of Georges Perec who once wrote an entire novel without using the fifth letter of the alphabet. Later he published a novella where the letter 'e' was the only vowel used in the entire book.

The rue Georges Perec is tucked away in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. This is a leafy corner of Paris, far removed from the noise and bustle often associated with the French capital. There are no cars in the rue Georges Perec, which is more an alley than a proper street. Wisteria and clematis tumble over the fences and railings which separate the thoroughfare from the adjacent gardens. No houses really front onto rue Georges Perec and there is only one numbered entrance. That property bears the number 13.

Those who know the work of French writer Georges Perec find it apposite that a Paris street named in his honour should be a little… special.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of a French publishing enigma which has slipped into literary obscurity. Georges Perec’s 1967 novel Un homme qui dort received its fair share of critical attention as did his extraordinary 1978 La Vie mode d’emploi — which is a panoramic collection of 99 interlaced stories. But not so many people remember Perec’s La Disparition which was published in 1969 and subsequently translated into English by the Scottish novelist Gilbert Adair. The English title is A Void.

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