Friday, 19 November 2010

The Erasers - Alain Robbe-Grillet

This was Robbe-Grillet’s first published novel and it broke new ground with enormous confidence. On the surface it is a detective novel of a peculiarly French kind - quiet, philosophical and so real you can feel the grit. If it was a movie it would be black and white. And the allusion to movies is apposite as Robbe-Grillet went on to be involved with some wonderful film projects as well.

So far so ordinary. Where Robbe-Grillet hacks through a hedge and builds a gate to a whole new field is in his technique. Given his success in film, it is valid to note that his written work is cinematic in the sense that we are given images, often repeated, often focussed on tiny detail, and from these we are allowed to construct a story. This is not so much abstract as cubist - we come back to scenes and details but always from slightly different perspectives. It is these that allow us a glimpse into the inner lives of the characters rather than straight descriptions of how characters are feeling.

Chronology is also dispensed with. It is not thrown out altogether; rather it is used in a way that reflects our inner view of the world. Whilst events may occur in a sequence, we very often revisit them when thinking of them, re-arranging events and our responses to them. Through this we are allowed to build up a comprehensive picture of what is happening in the novel.

Counter to the intuitive thought that a detective story becomes less enigmatic; this one becomes more complex as it goes on. The basic story is satisfying in itself, but the real joy is experiencing the way in which it unfolds through the minor detail and the slow composition of the whole.

If there is one problem I have with this particular translation it is that the translator clearly did not know the difference between a revolver and an automatic pistol. It makes no real difference to the story, but the two guns have radically different ways of working and it just bugged me. Perhaps I should brush up my extremely rusty French and read it in the original (although I fear if I brushed away that much rust there would be nothing of substance left to work with).

Highly recommended and an ideal place to start with Robbe-Grillet if you have never read his work before.