Le Voyeur and Le Nouveau Roman

R-GI sat down to consider what I might say in a post focusing on my favorite author, Alain Robbe-Grillet. Specifically I was running through the events and the structure of what is possibly R-Gs most well-known novel, Le Voyeur. But despite having read this novel at least five times, I began to get confused.

It goes something like this:

Le Voyeur is the story of a watch salesman who takes the ferry to the offshore island where he grew up in hopes to makes some lucrative sales. While he is waiting for the ferry he thinks back to the last time he went to the island and, characteristic of the author, while he is imagining his past experiences, he is also having his remembered self thinking back to his even earlier experiences on the island. Then to really confuse the situation, the watch salesman is also imagining how he will canvas the island when he gets there and how he will make such excellent profits off of the watches he will sell after the ferry takes him to the island.

Of course, when the watch salesman gets to the island and tries to sell his wares, his efforts do not provide the rewards he imagined. Then a young girl is found strangled and there is talk of a stranger wandering suspiciously around the island. Is the watch salesman the killer? There are many clues to suggest he is guilty.

Add to this R-Gs technique of shuffling the various narratives and timeframes in the novel so that the reader must always be aware of who is doing what when. For example, the watch salesman might go up to the front door of a prospective customer yet the continuation of the narration might develop activities that occur years before at an earlier time when the salesman tried to convince the homeowner that they needed a new watch.

This is very much like one of the early warnings I received when reading Joyce’s Ulysses: is it Stephen that is walking down the street headed for a destination and turns around, changing his mind, but continues to imagine what would have happened if he hadn’t turned around? That stream of consciousness thing is tricky.

My question to most students is: Did the watch salesman catch the ferry? (definitely NOT Did he kill the girl?)

Le voyeurWell, this little discussion of Le Voyeur has convinced me that I need to read the novel soon so as to keep the little gray cells refreshed. I actually have multiple copies of Le Voyeur, in English and in French. My prize is the paperback edition from the early 1960s (it has possibly the most provocative cover since I, the Jury).

Le Voyeur is actually comprehensible. Other R-G novels can put an even greater demand on the reader: The detective who is pursuing the killer who turns out to be …; the soldier who goes up to the door, looks in and sees a table and a calendar on the wall which shows a picture of a soldier looking in the window at a room with a table and a calendar on the wall which …; and lots of other good stuff to wrap your brain around.

If you haven’t read Alain Robbe-Grillet, please do … without delay. R-G will put you into the world of the Nouveau Roman and maybe you’ll branch out to other N-R authors such as Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, Robert Pinget, Georges Perec, or Julio Cortázar.

Wikipedia gives us a nice bibliography for Alain Robbe-Grillet:

Fiction
Un Régicide (1949)
Les Gommes (1953) – Fénéon Prize
Le Voyeur (1955)
La Jalousie (1957)
Dans le labyrinthe (1959)
La Maison de rendez-vous (1965)
Projet pour une révolution à New York (1970)
La Belle Captive (1975)
Topologie d’une cité fantôme (1976)
Souvenirs du Triangle d’Or (1978)
Djinn (1981)
La Reprise (2001)
Un Roman sentimental (2007)

Short story collection
Instantanés (1962)

“Romanesques”
Le Miroir qui revient (1985)
Angélique ou l’enchantement (1988)
Les derniers jours de Corinthe (1994)

Essays
Pour un Nouveau Roman (1963)
Le voyageur, essais et entretiens (2001)
Préface à Une Vie d’Ecrivain (2005)

You will probably notice that R-G is very cinematic in his writing so it’s not too much of a surprise to find that he is also a respected film maker, even if his films are somewhat strange.

Filmworks available as ciné-novels
1960: L’Année dernière à Marienbad Les Éditions de Minuit ASIN: B005MP60NO
1963: L’Immortelle Les Éditions de Minuit ASIN: B0014Q17Z6
1974: Glissements progressifs du plaisir Les Éditions de Minuit ASIN:B0048IY7OK
2002: C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle Les Éditions de Minuit ISBN 978-2-7073-1793-3

R-GFilmography
L’immortelle (1963)
Trans-Europ-Express (1966)
L’homme qui ment / Muž, ktorý luže (1968)
L’Eden et après / Eden a potom (1970)
N. a pris les dés… (1971)
Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974), starring Anicée Alvina, Olga Georges-Picot, Michel Lonsdale, Jean Martin; editor Bob Wade; producer Roger Boublil
Le jeu avec le feu / Playing with Fire (1975)
La belle captive (1983), starring: Daniel Mesguich, Gabrielle Lazure, Cyrielle Claire, Daniel Emilfork, Roland Dubillard, François Chaumette
The Blue Villa (1995), starring: Fred Ward, Arielle Dombasle
C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle (2006), starring: James Wilby, Arielle Dombasle, Dany Verissimo

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