The title of my all time favourite novel has somewhat unfortunate connotations- Life a User's Manual. While it sounds like a soppy self help book, George Perec’s 1978 novel provides little in the way of intentionally helping its reader, rather he dives straight into the calamity of events that is life.
The book is unlike a conventional novel; it isn’t bound by conventional constraints such as a linear narrative or clear distinctions of reality or allusion. It’s a tangled mess of tangent and loosely woven series of events.
Set in a Parisian apartment block, each short chapter describes a random room and it’s occupants or a past occupant or even someone the occupant once meet.
One of the main threads of the whopping big novel, is the story of Bartlebooth
First, he spends 10 years learning to paint watercolours under the tutelage of Valene, who also becomes a resident of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier. Then, he embarks on a 20-year trip around the world with his loyal servant Smautf (also a resident of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier), painting a watercolor of a different port roughly every two weeks for a total of 500 watercolors.
Bartlebooth then sends each painting back to France, where the paper is glued to a support board, and a carefully selected craftsman named Gaspard Winckler (also a resident of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier) cuts it into a jigsaw puzzle. Upon his return, Bartlebooth spends his time solving each jigsaw, re-creating the scene.
Each finished puzzle is treated to re-bind the paper with a special solution invented by Georges Morellet, another resident of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier. After the solution is applied, the wooden support is removed, and the painting is sent to the port where it was painted. Exactly 20 years to the day after it was painted, the painting is placed in a detergent solution until the colors dissolve, and the paper, blank except for the faint marks where it was cut and re-joined, is returned to Bartlebooth.
It knocks my socks off with how amazingly bizarre Bartlebooth is.