Which may not be far from the mark, figuratively or literally. As noted by Michael Orthofer at The Literary Saloon, Alain Robbe-Grillet just released a new novel, Un Roman Sentimental, but I would vouch that it’s anything but sentimental. In fact, Orthofer calls it “(young teen) porn”, but knowing Robbe-Grillet’s penchant for lasciviousness in his later novels – such as Recollections of the Golden Triangle and La Mainson de Rendez-vous – and the telling fact that three of my six books by him are decorated by cover art depicting a woman in various stages of undress, this is hardly new. With his films and with his later books, Robbe-Grillet’s been taken over by a rather unseemly preoccupation with his (highly idiosyncratic) sexual fantasies.
But, to disagree only slightly that “[Un Roman Sentimental is] pretty much the definitively last nail in the coffin of the Nouveau Roman”, the later works have been called the New New Novel, as separate from the New Novel. Which seems to be a facile distinction until one reads the early work and the later work and realizes that there is some literary merit to the former while the latter has become enamored with its process, lost the heart of the cyclical/fragmentary nature and become obsessed by forbidden sexuality. The early novels – especially The Voyeur, Jealousy, and In the Labyrinth, are haunting examples of Robbe-Grillet’s notion of objective subjectivity, explained in the collection of essays, “For a New Novel.” The early novels are hardly beach books – in fact, they might be the polar opposite – but I think they’re intriguing to read for how the repetition of scenes leads the reader through the psychological journey of the character, and also as an example of how to describe, say, smashing a centipede against a wall, in a way that reveals the progressive emotional states of the narrator.
Despite my defense of his early work, Robbe-Grillet is a prime example of a writer past his prime. And, as Orthofer points out, the public seems to know this – the initial sales numbers have been low and the buzz on the literary scene has been muted, to say the least. Well, it’s just deserts for writing novels that only appear to be an overindulgent fleshing out (pun intended) of personal fantasies.
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