Two books occupied my time this last month, with nothing in common between them except the sensation of insatisfaction.
A lot has been said about the style of Alain Robbe-Grillet, the Nouveau Roman, a weird trend that I cannot recommend to ordinary readers. It is stuff for psychologists and academics. Twelve years ago, I was already decided to give a try on writing, so I explored alternative narratives. That’s how I came to buy Le voyeur and La jalousie, both written by Alain Robbe-Grillet. I was not ready for the shock when I read Le voyeur. I immediately abhorred it and found it nonsensical. That’s one of the reasons why it took me eleven years to read the second book I had bought from him. I have changed as a reader, being able to take a book Faulkner, Flaubert or Foster Wallace (hey, the triple F) only these last few years. Those are complex writers for me. So I felt I was ready to read also Robbe-Grillet’s La jalousie .
There is a table for three people in some African colony. A couple, we can imagine, and a visitor. The visitor is always alone, his wife never comes. She says she is sick but it is clear she is jealous about the house woman. The thing is, the house husband never intervenes in the story. We can imagine he is there, and, seeing the obsessive recount of things (we can barely call them events), like the dead of a caterpillar, the arrangement of the banana plantations or the house structure, we can also imagine he is the hidden jealous. The third jealousy comes from the french word jalousie, (a louver), a piece of the window that is the center of the situation. Of course, nothing happens. The maybe-lovers read a book that could be the story of themselves. That is maybe the unique concession to traditional story-telling.
It comes to me as a surprise that On Chesil Beach, by my quite revered Ian McEwan, is also a mediocre piece. This is almost a short story, not a proper novel, that describes a honeymoon night turning bad. Periodically, the writer goes back in time to explain how the just married have arrived to this point. OK with it except that the story is almost plain. But then, in the fifth and final chapter, McEwan gets bored of his story, jumps forty years forward, forgets the girl’s point of view, and gives us a mundane resume of the groom’s life after that forgettable night. Is that it?, one wonders. I have read six or seven pieces by McEwan, and this one goes to the bottom in my ranking. But writers can’t always get it right, can they?