Gaspard Winckler, master forger, is trapped in a basement studio on the outskirts of Paris, with his paymaster’s blood on his hands. The motive for this murder? A perversion of artistic ambition. After a lifetime lived in the shadows, he has strayed too close to the sun. Fittingly for such an enigmatic writer, Portrait of a Man is both Perec’s first novel and his last. Frustrated in his efforts to find a publisher, he put it aside, telling a friend: I’ll go back to it in ten years when it’ll turn into a masterpiece, or else I’ll wait in my grave until one of my faithful exegetes comes across it in an old trunk. An apt coda to one of the brightest literary careers of the twentieth century, it is – in the words of David Bellos, the faithful exegete who brought it to light – connected by a hundred threads to every part of the literary universe that Perec went on to create – but it’s not like anything else that he wrote.
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