Alain Robbe-Grillet Essay - Critical Essays

Alain Robbe-Grillet Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s writing is best described as experimental narrative. Believing that the novel as a genre was doomed to die from stagnation, he set about reinventing the novel. To achieve this goal, he rejected the conventions of traditional realism and permitted himself to subvert the narrative structure.

The traditional novel relies heavily on plots that, although they may digress or lead to surprise endings, are logical. Robbe-Grillet’s plots not only lack logic but often evaporate as the novel unfolds. A murder is mentioned, or the possibility that a murder was committed is suggested, but it may be simply left at that, or a number of conclusions may be proposed, or the character who is dead or is not really dead may appear again. This occurs in slightly different fashion in both The Erasers and La Maison de Rendez-vous.

The characters in novels traditionally have pasts and usually futures. The author provides the reader with psychological insights into the characters’ behavior. Robbe-Grillet’s characters exist only within the immediate reality of the novel. He portrays his characters through their perception of objects and events that they see. The characters may have multiple names such as the spy in Repetition, or may be identified by only an initial.

Traditional narrators are for the most part reliable, although they may be biased or opinionated. Robbe-Grillet’s narrators are not reliable. Robbe-Grillet moves at times from one narrator to another without indicating the change. He shifts his narrative from first person to third or from third person to first without any identifiable transition. By doing this, he leaves the reader unsure if there is one narrator or multiple narrators.

In the traditional novel, description creates a cultural, social, or historical milieu in which the story unfolds. Objects often add an emotive aspect to the story; for example, an old abandoned house may have a sinister appearance. Robbe-Grillet insists on the elimination of all descriptions of objects that invest them with human characteristics or attributes or any mythic symbolism. He uses description only to describe exactly what is perceived. Meticulous, repetitive, at times even tedious, descriptions of objects create the reality of the novel, which is a reality of things.

In the traditional novel, the story unfolds in a chronological order. It may contain flashbacks or dream sequences, but they are presented in such a way that the reader does not lose track of the chronology of the story. Robbe-Grillet totally subverts chronological order in his novels as...

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