A Void

From Academic Kids

La disparition (The Disappearance) is a 300 page French lipogrammatic novel, written in 1969 by Georges Perec, entirely without the letter e, following Oulipo constraints.

It was translated into English by Gilbert Adair, with the title A Void , for which he won the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize in 1995. The only other English translation, by John Lee, is titled The Vanish'd.

All versions omit the letter e, a remarkable feat considering that it is the most commonly used letter of the alphabet in both English and French. Normally essential words such as je (I) and le (the) are absent in the original, along with similarly common words like 'me' or 'the' in the translations.

Plot

The book follows a group of people hunting their missing friend, Anton Vowl. It loosely parodies the detective genre, but the ending is not a happy one. The book also contains a number of other artifices, which have led several reviewers to dismiss the work as a shallow and purely technical effort.

Themes

However, other critics believe the novel offers more. Warren Motte, for instance, provides one interpretation when he writes in an article on Georges Perec (http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no11/Motte.html) in the literary magazine Context (http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/index.html),

the absence of a sign is always the sign of an absence, and the absence of the E in A Void announces a broader, cannily coded discourse on loss, catastrophe, and mourning. Perec cannot say the words père, mère, parents, famille in his novel, nor can he write the name Georges Perec. In short, each "void" in the novel is abundantly furnished with meaning, and each points toward the existential void that Perec grappled with throughout his youth and early adulthood. A strange and compelling parable of survival becomes apparent in the novel, too, if one is willing to reflect on the struggles of a Holocaust orphan trying to make sense out of absence, and those of a young writer who has chosen to do without the letter that is the beginning and end of écriture.

Note: The French words above respectively mean father, mother, parents, family, writing.

Motte is referring to the fact Perec was brought up by his aunt and uncle, as both his parents perished in World War II.

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