In 1975 the French novelist and filmmaker Georges Perec spent three days recording the everyday events he witnessed through different café windows in the Saint-Sulpice Square. The result of this became the much-loved An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, a short collection of observations that has since been held up as an example of good writing. It is an eerie, fascinating read, turning the somewhat innocent act of people watching into something more surreal and sinister. The short book takes the reader on a journey of secrecy, privacy and voyeurism. So much so, that Perec’s piece deserves to be on the bookshelf next to the best collections of Raymond Carver, who in turn was fascinated by and wrote about similar subjects.
Inspired by Perec’s work, writer Jon Wilkins has published and contributed to his own attempt at exhausting a place. His new anthology An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicester brings together seventy-three separate pieces comprising stories, poetry and monologues by a whole host of writers in an attempt to wring out everything that makes up the city of Leicester. And there is some rich material to exploit. Authors such as Colin Wilson, Sue Townsend, Joe Orton and Julian Barnes were all born of the city. In recent times there has been the exhumation and reburial of Richard III and of course Leicester City’s Premier league win of 2016. But it is the little things written about the city that hold the most pleasure. Poet and musician Lauren M Foster’s poem, 'Bus Stop, Woodhouse Eaves,' opens with the lines:
And goes on to describe two separate conversations which end with the poet graffitiing the bus stop timetable whilst waiting for the bus that never arrives. This short poem best captures the inconsequential moments that Perec was striving for when he wrote his Paris project. So too does Lisa Williams’s flash fiction piece, 'Community,' which captures a ripple-effect moment in Victoria Park that is as beautiful as it is satirical. There are also reminisces of being bought apples from Leicester market and political poems of belonging. But the best parts of this anthology are the ones which read like a water-damaged love letter to the small moments as they happen in the city - which Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris was all about.
About the reviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He has just completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.