Archives for posts with tag: experimental writing

Species of Spaces, 2012

This was taken in Clock House, Beckenham, UK.

Species of Spaces and Other Pieces  is an anthology of essays and autobiography by Georges Perec. It was first published as Espèces d’espaces by Galilée in France. Penguin published it in the UK in 1997.

Georges Perec approached writing like a game. Exhibit A: his first novel, Les Choses: Une histoire des années soixante (Things: A Story of the Sixties), 1965 is written entirely in the conditional tense, emphasising the fact that its characters do not hold as much importance as the things described. Exhibit B: La Disparition (A Void), 1969 is a 300-page French novel written entirely without the letter ‘e’ (amazingly, Gilbert Adair translated it into English in 1995, and won the Scott Moncrieff prize for his troubles).

You can read more about Georges Perec here. But if you really want the skinny on Georges I recommend: Georges Perec: A Life in Words by David Bellos (1993).

I’ve read every translation I can lay my hands on – I’m a fan. Despite often being experimental, Perec’s books are very accessible. Species of Spaces is a fun place to start, but Life A Users Manual is generally acknowledged as his masterpiece.

(Perec was a member of the Oulipo group (made up of mainly French writers and mathematicians), who sought to create works using constrained writing techniques (one of which, hilariously, was to write poetry in Great Ape – a language Edgar Rice Burroughs made up for his simian characters). )

Here’s the beginning of Species of Spaces:

Figure 1: Map of the Ocean (taken from Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark)










In our house, the book can be found: study, left-hand bookshelves, third shelf down.

* * *

Thank you  John and Deanne for making me think about titles. Extra thanks to Deanne for  tag ideas etc. Ta too to Terry for sending me bookshelfwards in search of ideas, and of course to Richard at CK Ponderings for being a super-cool collaborator.

Tessa was about to make her third mistake of the day. A big, steaming, multi-headed mistake, bristling in anoraks and coats, between the condensation on the peeling door and the fake-wood counter.

About two feet from the spot where they should have been greeted, the family was waiting for a signal to release them from the confines of the cool, cream corridor into the warmth of the restaurant. The man had checked his watch several times and taken care to make just enough eye contact with Tessa to elicit a response.  But Tessa could not and would not respond, no matter how much he stared at her.

It had been seven minutes since the family had crossed the threshold and collectively inhaled the sweet traceries of Louis’s Sunday roast.

Tessa’s attention traveled a precise and involved route around the intricacies of lace-work on her apron. After a third trip round, the uniform stubbornly refused to offer anything that could realistically be considered to be of interest – and she realised she would have to look up. If she could just make it through the next few minutes, Sarah, the senior waitress, would be back from table 3. She would greet them properly. Tessa lacked confidence.

The man coughed.  Eight minutes.  Tessa could almost feel his impatience growing under those thick, black fatherly eyebrows. Her face felt hot and dirty. She looked at her watch, willing the time on, watching the second hand crawl around its circuit. Sarah had told her to wait, but the man was looking at her. She was the waitress. She was there in black and white and it didn’t make sense for her to ignore them. The boy would get restless soon. Tessa’s hand searched blindly for the pad that hung at her side and stopped its gentle swinging. She could go over to them and confess that she did not know what she was doing, but she had already lost two customers that morning by doing that. She tried a smile.

Download a pdf of the whole sorry tale here

Minestrone was originally published in Fash N Riot (2001), edited by Flora McLean and Anne Hardy.

In 1984, I didn’t kill the things I loved, I simply wore them out. I gorged myself on TV, music, food; anything that came along. Bright, coloured objects; plain, grey, casual clothes; and clinical, electronic music were the axis around which my body revolved, trying to find substitutes for love. Because love was everywhere, but just out of reach; in the records I listened to, on the radio, on TV, in magazines and books…everywhere. I wanted it, but I just couldn’t get love. From the trials I had done on my own I was certain that, with another person involved, its possibilities were inexhaustible. But I didn’t socialise, (outside college), and thoughts of specific girls, or love in general, always brought with them a whispering, jealous anxiety, for example: Once you’ve got your girl, what will you do with her? Where will you take her? How will you keep her entertained?

I did not act on love, until September. In the meantime, I paced about my family cell, listening to the same songs over and over again; hearing nothing beyond the stylus crunching into position on the record’s edge; the songs merging with my longing and the nights that always accompanied it…

Download: A Lemming Named Desire

Originally published in Girlboy (a Pulp Faction anthology edited by Elaine Palmer)