“A Void” by George Perec (translated by G. Adair)

I knew about this book for a long time before I read it: it’s one of several translations of La Disparition, a French novel (really, a sort of detective thriller) written without the letter “e.”  The English translation holds to the same restriction.  I found the first few chapters (they are numbered 1 to 26, but there is no chapter 5) very confusing, before I realized that the entire novel is a big, self-referential joke; with that framework, the whole thing made much more sense and is a lot of fun. It was more work than anything I’ve read recently (unsurprisingly, the vocabulary is sometimes baroque), but I thought in the end that it was worth the effort.  Several moments sparkle brilliantly: the first character to whom we are introduced is named Anton Vowl; Chapter 10 ends with a series of famous poems, including William Shakspar’s “Living or not living” soliloquy and “Black Bird” (“Quoth that Black Bird, ‘Not Again’“); and a section titled “On Groups (by Marshall Hall Jr),” which includes the following paragraph:

It’s said that, just prior to dying, at night, at about 4 or 5 a.m., Galois put in writing on his jotting pad (Marshall Hall Jr, op. cit, folio B) a long, continuous chain of factors in his own form of notation.  To wit:

aa − 1 = bb − 1 = cc − 1 = dd − 1 = ff − 1 = gg − 1 = hh − 1 = ii − 1 = jj − 1 = kk − 1 = ll − 1 = mm − 1 = nn − 1 = oo − 1 = pp − 1 = qq − 1 = rr − 1 = ss − 1 = tt − 1 = uu − 1 = vv − 1 = ww − 1 = xx − 1 = yy − 1 = zz − 1 =

As part of his manuscript is missing, though, nobody knows to this day what conclusion Galois was hoping to draw from his calculations.

I think it would be interesting to compare other translations (according to Wikipedia, there are at least three others).


(I read another of Perec’s books a few years ago.)

This entry was posted in Book reviews, Books, Math and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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