Critical Context

"Fools Say,” Sarraute’s seventh novel, may well be her most abstract, but her dense, precise prose has always focused on the most fundamental of human emotions. Her first volume was Tropismes (1938, 1957; Tropisms, 1963), a collection of sketches. Her first two novels, Portrait d’un inconnu (1948; Portrait of a Man Unknown, 1958) and Martereau (1953; English translation, 1959), with first-person narrators, were followed by the essays in L’Ere du soupcon (1956; The Age of Suspicion, 1963); these essays were used as a manifesto for what has been called the New Novel. More significant, it is in these essays that Sarraute discusses subconversation and what she is trying to do in her fiction. She accepts Fyodor Dostoevski and Marcel Proust as her predecessors and begins where Proust ended. Her work is distinct from that of New Novelists such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Michel Butor, in that however experimental it may be, it belongs to the realist tradition.

Sarraute’s other novels include Le Planetarium (1959; The Planetarium, 1960); Les Fruits d’or (1963; The Golden Fruits, 1964), in which there is a discussion by many voices of the literary value of a novel titled The Golden Fruits; Entre la vie et la mort (1968; Between Life and Death, 1969), which presents the vacillating consciousness of a writer in the process of writing; and Vous les entendez? (1972; Do You Hear Them?, 1973), which focuses on the reactions of a devoted father hearing and trying to interpret his children’s laughter. L’Usage de la parole (1980; The Uses of Speech, 1980), like Tropisms, is a collection. Sarraute has also written five plays, which have been successful both on the radio and in stage productions.

In contrast to the isolation and alienation of Samuel Beckett’s world, Sarraute creates a community of voices. Her insistence on the validity of tropistic reality, despite the ever-present threat of misinterpretation, makes it clear that human significance, for this author, can be found only amid the cacophony of other voices.