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A Void

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A Void
Cover of the English translation of La Disparition
AuthorGeorges Perec
Original titleLa Disparition
TranslatorGilbert Adair
Publication date
Publication placeFrance
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages290 pp (Eng. trans. Hardcover)
ISBN0-00-271119-2 (Eng. trans. Hardcover)

A Void, translated from the original French La Disparition (lit. "The Disappearance"), is a 300-page French lipogrammatic novel, written in 1969 by Georges Perec, entirely without using the letter e, following Oulipo constraints. Perec would go on to write with the inverse constraint in Les Revenentes, with only the vowel “e” present in the work. Ian Monk would later translate Les Revenentes into English under the title The Exeter Text.



It was translated into English by Gilbert Adair, with the title A Void, for which he won the Scott Moncrieff Prize in 1995.[1] The Adair translation of the book also won the 1996 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for Fiction.[2]

Three other English translations are titled A Vanishing by Ian Monk,[3] Vanish'd! by John Lee,[4] and Omissions by Julian West.[5]

All translators have imposed upon themselves a similar lipogrammatic constraint to the original, avoiding the most commonly used letter of the alphabet. This precludes the use of words normally considered essential such as je ("I"), et ("and"), and le (masculine "the") in French, as well as "me", "be", and "the" in English. The Spanish version contains no a, which is the second most commonly used letter in the Spanish language (first being e), while the Russian version contains no о. The Japanese version does not use syllables containing the sound "i" (, , , etc.) at all.

Other languages translations
Language Author Title Year
German Eugen Helmlé Anton Voyls Fortgang 1986
Italian Piero Falchetta La scomparsa 1995
Spanish Hermes Salceda El secuestro 1997
Swedish Sture Pyk Försvinna 2000
Russian Ales Astashonok-Zhgirovsky Исчезновение [Ischeznovenie] 2001
Russian Valeriy Kislov Исчезание [Ischezanie] 2005
Turkish Cemal Yardımcı Kayboluş 2006
Dutch Guido van de Wiel 't Manco 2009
Romanian Serban Foarta Disparitia 2010
Japanese Shuichiro Shiotsuka 煙滅 [Emmetsu] 2010
Croatian Vanda Mikšić Ispario 2012
Portuguese José Roberto "Zéfere" Andrades Féres O Sumiço 2016
Catalan Adrià Pujol Cruells L'eclipsi 2017
Polish René Koelblen and Stanisław Waszak Zniknięcia 2022
Finnish Ville Keynäs Häviäminen 2023

Plot summary


A Void's plot follows a group of individuals looking for a missing companion, Anton Vowl. It is in part a parody of noir and horror fiction, with many stylistic tricks, gags, plot twists, and a grim conclusion. On many occasions it implicitly talks about its own lipogrammatic limitation, highlighting its unusual syntax. A Void's protagonists finally work out which symbol is missing, but find it a hazardous topic to discuss, as any who try to bypass this story's constraint risk fatal injury. Philip Howard, writing a lipogrammatic appraisal of A Void in his column Lost Words, said: "This is a story chock-full of plots and sub-plots, of loops within loops, of trails in pursuit of trails, all of which allow its author an opportunity to display his customary virtuosity as an avant-gardist magician, acrobat and clown."

Major themes


Both of Georges Perec's parents perished in World War II: his father as a soldier and his mother in the Holocaust. He was brought up by his aunt and uncle after surviving the war. Warren Motte interprets the absence of the letter e in the book as a metaphor for Perec's own sense of loss and incompleteness:[6]

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 ["father"], mère ["mother"], parents ["parents"], famille ["family"] 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 ["writing"].



See also



  1. ^ "List of prize winners at the Society of Authors website". Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  2. ^ "Firecracker Alternative Book Awards". ReadersRead.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2009.
  3. ^ Levin Becker, Daniel (2012). Many subtle channels : in praise of potential literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-06962-6. OCLC 794004240.
  4. ^ Bensimon, Paul; français, Centre de recherches en traduction et stylistique comparée de l'anglais et du (1995). La lecture du texte traduit (in French). Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle. ISBN 978-2-87854-098-7.
  5. ^ Esme Winter-Froemel; Angelika Zirker, eds. (2015). Enjeux du jeu de mots : Perspectives linguistiques et littéraires. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-040834-8. OCLC 1013955053.
  6. ^ "Reading Georges Perec". Context (11). Dalkey Archive Press. Retrieved 28 July 2014.