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J(ean) M(arie) G(ustave) Le Clézio 1940–

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French novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic.

With the publication of his first work, La procès-verbal (1963; The Interrogation), Le Clézio emerged as one of the most provocative and promising young writers of contemporary French literature. Sometimes considered a descendant of such writers of the "Nouveau Roman" ("New Novel") as Nathalie Sarraute and Alain Robbe-Grillet, Le Clézio shares with these authors an interest in experimenting with literary form. Disordered narrative sequences, a repetitive, hypnotic attention to minute details, and a surreal montage of sensory perceptions characterize Le Clézio's fictional experiments. With little emphasis on plot or character development, Le Clézio's novels and short stories primarily recreate a feverish sense of anguish and alienation which he blames on the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society.

Critical reception to Le Clézio's work has been mixed. Although the publication of Le procès-verbal caused a stir in Parisian literary circles, many critics contend that Le Clézio's subsequent works have failed to fulfill the potential of his first novel. Critics commonly cite the repetitive themes, the obscure technical experiments, and the underdeveloped characters as elements which detract from the success of his fiction. However, he has been highly praised for his imaginative and impressionistic portraits of modern cityscapes.

The Virginia Quarterly Review

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"The Interrogation" brilliantly explores human experience beyond the pales of conventional human relations and reason. Mr. Le Clezio subjects his cool protagonist to the trials of solitude and the quest for ontological fulfillment…. This abstrusely metaphysical quest in the French manner comes vividly alive through Mr. Le Clezio's artistry. His novel proves that extremism in the exercise of the imagination can be a virtue with an artist whose vision is deep and precise. Such qualities are indeed rare and in one of Mr. Le Clezio's age and experience something truly remarkable.

A review of "The Interrogation," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Winter, 1965). p. x.

Stanley Kauffmann

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[The Interrogation] deals with a young man named Adam Pollo who lives alone in a house near the sea in southern France, walks, does not walk, talks to people, visits and is visited by a girl, but is in essence as solitary as the Crusoe who supplies the epigraph for his story. The novel traces his mental decline after his release "out of a mental home or out of the army"—much of it in interior monologues. But his retrogression is presented as contemporary heroic myth, not pathology, in a manner that implies the superiority of his withdrawals and distortions to the facts of life around him, that these withdrawals are indeed caused by the drabness and terror of the facts.

This of course is neither a new field for fiction nor a fresh view of contemporary society. The highhandedness of the young about the stupidities of the world they inherit is an ancient strophe, and the private purities of schizophrenia and paranoia are a latter-day mode of expressing it. LeClezio burdens himself with superficial trickeries—lines crossed out in the printed text, newspaper pages—but he has some gift of vision and an imagination that flies at the touch of a certain light, a view, a voice. If over-reaction were not the very tonality of his book, one could indict him for over-reacting. As it is, his novel—easily readable and sometimes poignant—fails simply by being insufficiently relevant to large concerns, a youthful paw at the universe instead of the intended tragic embrace. The tragedy soon wears away into self-consciousness and we are left with a series of attitudes substantiated, partly, by a vivid talent. (p. 21)

(The entire section contains 10400 words.)

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Le Clézio, J. M. G.