Life: A User’s Manual Summary

  • Last updated on July 19, 2023

Author: Georges Perec
Title: Life: A User’s Manual
Publish Date: 1978
Genre: Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 500 pages


Life: A User’s Manual, written by Georges Perec and published in 1978, is a groundbreaking work of fiction that masterfully weaves together various subplots and characters within a particular building in Paris. The book unfolds in meticulously described puzzle-like chapters, offering a unique exploration of themes such as human existence, time, and the interconnectedness of lives.

Structured like a game of chess, Perec presents the reader with the fictional story of the inhabitants of a ten-story apartment building called 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier. Each chapter focuses on a different room or occupant, offering glimpses into their lives and quirks. To enhance the complexity of the narrative, Perec includes intricate details about the objects found within each room, creating a tapestry of interconnected stories that unfold simultaneously.

The novel begins with Bartlebooth, an eccentric millionaire who embarks on a lifelong project. He travels the world painting watercolors, which are then transformed into jigsaw puzzles that he reassembles. Once complete, the puzzles are dipped in water and their images dissolve, eventually leaving Bartlebooth with only a blank canvas. This futile exercise reflects the transient nature of human existence and the pursuit of meaningless endeavors.

Through the aforementioned puzzle-like structure, Perec introduces a vast array of characters who contribute to the intricate tapestry of Life: A User’s Manual. Some notable inhabitants of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier include:

1. Valene, a painter who often communicates through anagrams.
2. The Gaspard family, consisting of the elderly Wincklers, the Violas, and Philibert Taillefer.
3. Colin, a cellarman who disassembles and reassembles objects in his cellar apartment recreationally.
4. Marcel Appenzzellor, an architect, and his mysterious past.
5. Lavabre, a taxidermist with a fondness for preserved animals.

As the book progresses, readers begin to unravel the intricate connections between the diverse inhabitants. Themes such as chance, obsession, and the human condition come to the forefront. Perec explores the nuances of existence, inviting readers to question how individuals navigate their lives while being unknowingly connected to others, sometimes across time.

Perec also incorporates references to art, literature, and history, further enriching the complexity of the narrative. Through these subtle nods, he encourages readers to discover the hidden layers of meaning within the text, making Life: A User’s Manual a fertile ground for exploration and interpretation.

Ultimately, Life: A User’s Manual challenges conventional storytelling by presenting a fragmented yet cohesive narrative that mirrors the vastness and interconnectedness of life itself. Perec's intricate and captivating portrayal of characters, their lives, and their environments creates a unique reading experience. By effortlessly weaving together seemingly disparate stories, Perec alters the traditional structure of a novel and exposes the entangled nature of human existence.

With its ingenious structure, thought-provoking themes, and meticulous attention to detail, Life: A User’s Manual remains a seminal work within the literary world. This masterpiece invites readers to introspect, contemplate the complexity of human lives, and perhaps find solace in the interconnectedness of the world around them.

Categories: Books