Ramblings on the nouveau roman

Due to an unfortunate screen adapatation, Marguerite Duras‘ melancholy and breathtaking The Lover* may be the nouveau roman novel most often read by contemporary readers outside of France. At least I hope it is. (If a Hollywood butchering is what it takes, I guess I’m all for that?)

In my early twenties I also worshipped Alain Robbe-Grillet for the cold, detached, and strangely evocative Jealousy. I haven’t read the book in years and am afraid to return to it lest it seem contrived rather than captivating to me now, with its smashed centipede and cinematic insistence on obsessively revisiting, from a variety of angles, all the movements of the protagonist’s wife, “A.,” who seems to be having an affair with the neighbor.

(What I’ve read from Claude Simon, considered by many to be the patriarch of the nouveau roman movement, strikes me as a lot of hot air. But the Nobel committee disagrees, and to be fair I only tried one of his books.)

I’ve yet to try anything by Christine Brooke-Rose, a writer sometimes grouped with the nouveau roman greats (and also, evidently, a woman B.S. Johnson called his soulmate). Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski’s Independent article on forgotten books last year piqued my interest in her work. Now Boncza-Tomaszewski has interviewed Brooke-Rose, who acknowledges that her early writing owes a great debt to Robbe-Grillet:

[Jealousy] is in fact written in exactly the manner I adopted for Out…. I never claim what I was doing in the beginning was original; what I do claim is that I developed it and explored it after Robbe-Grillet.


* The Lover‘s opening lines:

One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place, a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said: “I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.”


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