Things: A Story of the Sixties

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Things: A Story of the Sixties
First English-language edition
AuthorGeorges Perec
Original titleLes choses
TranslatorHelen R. Lane[1]
SubjectConsumerism, modernity
Published1965 by Julliard
Published in English
1967 by Grove Press
AwardsPrix Renaudot

Things (French Les Choses) is a 1965 novel by Georges Perec, his first.[2]

The novel met with popular and critical success and won the Prix Renaudot in 1965.[3]

Publication history[edit]

An authoritative English translation was published in a shared volume with A Man Asleep.[4]

Recent French paperback editions, and the English translation, bear the subtitle A Story of the Sixties (fr. Une histoire des années soixante), though the original French edition did not.[2][4][5]

Themes and structure[edit]

The characters in the novel do not hold as much textual importance as the things (les choses) meticulously described throughout, which are the subject of frequent digressions even in passages focusing on the main characters; no line of dialogue appears until the epilogue. The grammatical tense used by the author progresses from the conditional to the present to the future over the course of the novel. Perec's use of the conditional tense plunges the reader into the dreams of the characters in the novel,[original research?] most of which focus on their material desires, including residences, furniture, and fashionable clothing. The first chapter consists entirely of a description of a desirable apartment and its furnishings,[6] opening with: "L'œil, d'abord, glisserait sur la moquette grise d'un long corridor, haut et étroit [The eye, at first, would glide over the grey carpet of a long hallway, tall and narrow]."

The main characters are a young couple, the mononymous Jerôme and Sylvie, whose names are first mentioned in the second chapter. The focus on an inseparable couple, rather than a single character, can be seen as a device by which Perec avoids creating any distinct personalities independent of their surroundings.[7]

The first part of the book, which is much longer than the second, does not describe any significant part of the couples' lives in a linear narrative, but reveals that both are in their 20s and work as freelancers in the then-novel fields of opinion polling and market research. This affords them a great deal of leisure time and flexibility, but rarely as much income as they desire, and occasionally so little that they run out of cigarettes and eagerly pursue friends' dinner invitations in order to get enough to eat. Most of their friends have similar jobs, come from similar middle-class backgrounds, and have a few years of post-secondary education behind them. The main characters are equivocal in their work ethic and suspicious of becoming more deeply devoted to a career, although they feel a strong sense of entitlement to the riches and opportunities of the world around them. They are absorbed by a hedonic treadmill in which brief periods of increased prosperity invariably lead back to awareness of new material desires; this cycle is interrupted, but only temporarily, by the Algerian War, during which they turn their attention to anti-fascist political activism.[6] Outside of this interlude, the text focuses on "the ordinary, the banal, the familiar" aspects of the couple's middle-class life, described by Perec as "the sociology of the quotidian."[3]

In the shorter second part of the novel, narrated in the future tense, Jerôme and Sylvie "will attempt to flee" France for a fresh start[6] and find work abroad in Sfax, Tunisia (where the author Georges Perec and his wife lived in 1960–1961). During their 8 months in Sfax, they feel disconnected from the surrounding society and grow increasingly numb even to their formerly intense material desires. After they return to France, the story ends abruptly with a pessimistic view of their future happiness, despite predictions of their increasing material comfort.

The epilogue concludes with a quote from Karl Marx on the means and ends of searching for truth and meaning.[8]


  1. ^ Les Choses: A Story Of The Sixties Hardcover – 1967 Retrieved 2015-12-09.
  2. ^ a b George Perec (October 6, 1965). Les choses (in French). Office national de radiodiffusion télévision française.
  3. ^ a b Warren Motte. "Reading Georges Perec". Context. Dalkey Archive Press (11). Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Georges Perec (1990). Things: A Story of the Sixties; A Man Asleep. David Bellos and Andrew Leak (translators). David R. Godine, Publisher. ISBN 978-1567921571.
  5. ^ Georges Perec (2006). Les choses : une histoire des années soixante. Paris: Pocket.
  6. ^ a b c Philippe Parrot. "Georges Perec : Les choses" (in French). Retrieved 19:24, Tuesday, December 11, 2018 (UTC). Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ Charles Robinson (July 2010). "Les Choses -- Georges Perec" (in French). Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  8. ^ "A propos d'une citation de Marx reprise par Georges Perec – " Le moyen fait partie de la recherche de la vérité, aussi bien que le résultat. Il faut que la recherche de la vérité soit elle-même vraie… "" [Regarding a quote from Marx taken up by Georges Perec] (in French). Le Monde. August 30, 2012.