Quickly try to think of 10 different words or names in your head. Chances are, at least one of them had the letter ‘E’ in it. So far, this is only a few sentences long and has already used it 14 times. Now imagine trying to write an entire novel without using ‘E’ a single time.
That’s exactly what French writer Georges Perec did in 1969 with his novel, A Void. The title comes from the translation of the French term La Disparition, which literally translates to English as The Disappearance.
Through 300 pages of text, the letter ‘e’ does not appear once in the French language. Many translators have attempted to bring the book into their native language doing the same thing: avoiding the most frequently used letter in their language, but it’s proven to be very difficult. The Spanish version does not use the letter ‘a’ as it is the most common letter in the language.
Much like “the” or “be” in the English language, there is no instance of the most common word in the French language, which is “le”. In Spanish, the top three most frequently used words contain the letter ‘e’ (el, de and que).
Perec had a unique writing style that was praised by many. As a matter of fact, he won the prix Medicis award in France for his book Life: A User’s Manual written in 1978 and was considered to be his most popular book. The unique thing about this book was the fact that it had 99 chapters over just a 600 page span.
Still, A Void will be his most unique piece. The plot of this lipogrammatic book, tags along with a band of people looking for someone gone missing. It is filled with many different parodies noir and twists in the plot and ends on a sad note. It even makes reference to the fact that the letter ‘e’ can not be used by the characters who will suffer a fatal ending if they do.
Lipogrammatic writing or any other variation takes practice. To get into the practice, you can read books like A Void to understand how and why it is used in that way, or visit the site Wordsmart to brush up on your diction. To understand why writers make some of the choices they do will help you go a long way.
For instance, it is believed that the vanishing of the letter ‘e’ is indeed a metaphor for the Jewish suffering during World War II. The author’s name has many ‘e’s in it, so you don’t see his name associated with the book at all.
A Void was inspired by the book, Gadsby: A story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E”, which was written by Ernest Vincent Wright in 1939. People that love forms of constrained writing have forked over good money for this book as inspiration since it is so rare to find a copy of, but has since become public domain in the United States.