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Georges Perec: La Disparition (A Void)

A key thing about this book – apparently not noticed by one early French critic – is that the book does not contain a single example of the letter e which is as difficult in French as it is in English. It has been brilliantly translated into English, also sans e, by Gilbert Adair, though there are two unpublished english translations – Vanish’d (by John Lee) and A Vanishing (by Ian Monk). It is the story of Anton Voyl (voyelle is the French for vowel) called, of course, Anton Vowl in the English version. I am not going to reveal the plot, which is far too complex and convoluted to do. Suffice it to say that, in true Perec style, it is full of tricks, games, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots. As the French title (which means disappearance but, of course, could not be translated literally) indicates, after various problems, Anton Vowl disappears. His friend Conson (consonne is the French for consonant) sets out to find him. The plot is so twisted and varied that, at times, you can, like the French critic, forget that the letter e has been omitted and that that is more or less the point of this novel. Because Perec is so witty and clever, it actually works and makes for fun reading.

Publishing history

First published in French 1969 by Denoël
First published in English 1994 by the Harvill Press