Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec
Screw lists of best books published in a given year. What matters is when you read something, not when it's published. Sometime in May, by about page 200 of Life: A User's Manual, it was firmly in our top 10 fave books. By the end, it seemed like a clear-cut canonical biggie (eg, Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, 2666, Ulysses), but better natured than these -- also, it didn't seem like much of a chip was trying to be knocked off the authorial shoulder. Joyce took on Shakespeare, DFW aimed to depose the postmodernist phallocracy, but Perec seems more at peace. It's like Beckett's sucking stones section in Molloy: elaborate, infinitely detailed processes eventually reduced to nothing, but not with semi-suspicious "creative writing 101" poignancy -- here it's a celebration of the word in this book's title. Not much dialogue, mostly summarized scenes, short chapters, stories within stories within stories, a cast of hundreds. The Bartlebooth section, even if published alone, probably would have won the author the Nobel Prize if he'd lived into his sixties. Highly recommended to people who like to read, especially those readers into towering literary artistry (ie, audicious, original, extraordinarily well-executed, life-affirming, good-natured, inspiring masterpieces). Here's Paul Auster's New York Times review from 1987. If you get this for yourself for a belated Xmas present, you'll probably be pretty pleased.