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The Erasers, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first published novel, is about a detective, named Wallas, who is sent from the capital to a northern city to investigate the latest in a series of political assassinations. The most recent victim, Daniel Dupont, was, however, only slightly wounded in the attempt. His friend, Dr. Juard, hides the fact that Dupont is still alive and also withholds his “body” from the police in order to protect him from a possible second assassination attempt.

Wallas is on his first solo mission for a governmental intelligence agency and is to take charge of the investigation. Parallel to Wallas’ search for a murderer is his attempt to procure a certain type of eraser that he once saw, hence the title of the book. Although the reader does not see the hero of the novel, Wallas, in the first part of the prologue, it is eventually revealed that Wallas arrived late the night before and has taken a room in a cafe-hotel and that the owner is to call him at an early hour.

As the prologue begins, the cafe owner is preparing for the day’s business and recalling bits and pieces of conversations from both the distant and recent past. The passages are written exactly in the way that one would think to oneself about such experiences, leading to sudden shifts of time or of locale and persons and giving the reader no sense of chronology or any explanation for the sudden changes. This method of writing, the suppression of linear time and space, seems to owe much to Marcel Proust; it is one of the hallmarks of the New Novel.

Included in the owner’s thoughts is the fact that Dupont is not dead. Since Dupont’s phone was out of order, his housekeeper had called the police from the cafe, telling them that Dupont was only slightly wounded in the arm. At the same time, Robbe-Grillet seems to warn the reader that there will be the classic red herrings of the detective novel in this book, since the cafe owner has seen a newspaper relating Dupont’s death and thinks to himself that they can print anything they want but that they will never make him believe stories deliberately made up to fool people.

In the same manner, the reader is introduced to the murderer, Garinati, and his chief, Bona, who is giving his subordinate instructions on how to proceed with entering the house and killing Dupont. The reader makes a tour, through Garinati’s eyes, of Dupont’s house and witnesses the assassination attempt. The reader is also present at a meeting of Dupont and his friends while they discuss how to save him from the killers. Everything is presented to the reader in a series of flashbacks, without preamble or explanation. Finally, the prologue concludes with three words: “Wallas, Special Agent.”

Wallas has risen early and walks through this unknown city of labyrinthine streets looking for the central police station. He asks directions of various people and, not wishing to make his identity known, lies to them, saying that he wants to go to the post office. This method leads to various complications, and he then gives, to himself, true answers as well as other false ones that lead to more complications.

Wallas finally meets with Commissioner Laurent, and they discuss the case. Laurent is rather annoyed at Wallas’ being put in charge of the investigation but does his best to conceal it. Laurent is also bothered by the fact that he does not have a body to examine. The commissioner is not sure if Dupont was murdered,...

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killed himself, or died accidentally.

Wallas goes to Dupont’s house and interviews the old housekeeper. He also examines the study where Dupont was shot. Wallas takes to the streets again, and, quite by accident, enters the stationery store of Evelyne Dupont while looking for the elusive eraser. Wallas realizes that she must be the ex-wife when he sees a picture of Dupont’s house. He interrogates her, and she assures Wallas that Dupont could not possibly have committed suicide. Meanwhile, Laurent has also been conducting his part of the investigation, weighing all the possibilities, interviewing witnesses, imagining what might have happened.

Wallas eventually returns to Dupont’s house to reexamine the office where the attempt on Dupont’s life occurred. He is in the study when Dupont arrives on the scene, looking for important papers that he needs to take with him in his temporary flight. At the same time, Laurent is in his office, scoffing at the report of a young and overzealous subordinate who, believing people who were obviously playing a joke on him, has cooked up a theory that Dupont had an illegitimate son about twenty years ago. It is then that Laurent concludes that if he cannot find a body, it is because Dupont is still alive. He calls Dupont’s house to tell Wallas, but the call is too late: Wallas has just killed Dupont.