Shane's book eighteen: A Void by Georges Perec

Many people know that this book exists but few know what it's called, who wrote it or what it's about. It's simply 'that book someone wrote without using the letter e'. It's an astonishing achievement and just as astonishing is the achievement of translator Gilbert Adair, who repeated the trick in his translation. As you'd expect from a work written under such unorthodox constraints, it's a very odd book. Against a background of France in anarchy, the eccentric Anton Vowl disappears. His friend Amaury Conson leads the search for the missing Vowl and turns to the man's friends for help. However, as they pursue their investigation, they too begin to disappear.

The limitations imposed on Perec's word choice give the book an unsettling atmosphere, perfectly in keeping with the existential nightmare into which his characters are plunged. The story is an equally unsettling mix of the horrific and the absurd as long-standing vendettas are played out across Europe and the characters discover the truth behind their mysterious pasts.

All the while, Perec's ridiculous jokes and literary references make the book read like an Agatha Christie novel written by Spike Milligan. But in a good way. Here's a sample of Perec's daft humour:

"Alas!" was Tryphiodorus's sigh. "His mama was also dying whilst giving birth to him, a poor, totally unknown woman. But a solicitor's affidavit was found in a handbag -" "A handbag!"

Perec draws attention to the missing letter with a host of in-jokes. Of the book's 26 chapters one, chapter five, is blank. The book has six sections (one for each vowel, plus y) but the second is missing. At one point the characters find a transcript of "William Shakspar's Living, or not living" soliliquy. And so on.

But in the end and for all its humour, A Void is a very dark book. The notion of cursed families runs throughout the book but only at the end does Perec connect his themes to the Holocaust, in which his mother died. Her death left Perec an orphan - his father, a French soldier, having been killed in 1940.

I'm not sure that I would say this book was enjoyable but it is certainly exceptional. I recommend it.