The Guardian’s Steven Poole embraces the expression that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” to its literal extreme in his review of Georges Perec’s The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise, also known as L’art et la manière d’aborder son chef de service pour lui demander une augmentation, also known as The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise.
Poole tackles the Vintage UK edition, released concurrently with the Verso edition, as he assimilates the stylism of Perec and circumperambulates about the task of reviewing the unconventional text—and, à la L’art et la maniere d’aborder (ou à L’art?), dispenses of punctuation and capitalization, writes in the second person, and establishes a series of hypothetical situations, all within the span of a single-sentence review.
To quote Poole mid-sentence:
… functioning as a satire for the author’s day and oh yes our own on the subtly crushing effects of corporate life which was always after all the genius of perec to marry a deeply humane melancholy with dazzling formal experiments of which this one is also a deftly recursive simulation of the choices facing the writer of fiction as the text circles back on itself with varied refrains such as …
"George Perec's books in English are always the best looking," declares Laird Hunt in a recent review of The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise. Stylistically, Verso's 2011 edition of Perec's neurotic and pessimistic vision of office work "is every bit as handsome as its predecessors."
Handsome presentation isn't the only good news here. If The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise isn't likely to engender a significant reenvisioning of the Perec archipelago, it at least adds an outlying island of genuine interest.
In the first installment of their monthly book club, the literary website Full Stop read, and loved, Georges Perec's The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise. Of the story inspired by a computer flow chart, they say:
Perec's knack for absurdity and circumlocution ensures that each iteration is novel and urgent ... There is more to be had here than cleverness. There is friction in the flowchart, entropy in the machine, and as individual work becomes lost in a loop of Sisyphean labor and anonymous bureaucracy, 'the organisation to which you feel proud to belong' becomes 'the company in whose wheels you are at most a miniscule cog' becomes 'the consortium which pays you a pittance while grinding away the best years of your life.'
In a review posted today for Barnes and Noble Review, David O'Neill argues that The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, Georges Perec's run-on tale of trepidatious corporate ambition, is perfectly suited for a contemporary generation of readers:
Perec's punch-card prose works its way through all the possible scenarios, including a Sisyphean scene in which the protagonist "quite pointlessly circumperambulates forty-five times in a row the various departments." Perec repeatedly deploys the phrase "it's one or tother" at each branch of the narrative, and continuously blurts "for we must do our best to keep things simple" as the story becomes hopelessly convoluted. In the preface, Bellos says the book is "close to being unreadable," because Perec eschews most punctuation (aside from the occasional dash), writes in all lowercase, and "simulate[s] the speed and tireless repetitiveness of a computer."
But while the book is certainly uneventful, it is far from unreadable-if anything its wit and comedy encourage compulsive consumption. It's probably better suited to today's audience than to a reader perusing it when it was written four decades ago, because it improbably dovetails with the monotone meanderings of the present moment's information surfeit. Reading The Art is like spending an hour or two on the Internet.
On May 7, what would have been Perec's seventy-fifth birthday, Verso presented a lost classic: The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, published in English for the first time. Reviewer Jessica Freeman-Slade describes the book's strange provenance in a recent piece for [TK] Reiews:
In 1968 Jacques Perriaud of the Computing Service of the Humanities Research Center in Paris challenged artists to begin using computers in their work. But the challenge was greater than that: to challenge a writer to use the computer's "basic mode of operation as a writing device." Perriaud devised a flow chart—a visual representation of a computer algorithm—that might play out the different narrative options involved in asking one's boss for a pay increase. At that time, Georges Perec was a little-known writer ... What Perec did with Perriaud's challenge both engaged the rules of the challenge and simultaneously tore them down.