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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet is a translation of his La Jalousie. It's important to know that, because the original French title is a play on words that you don't understand in English unless you already know about it. "Jalousie" is "jealousy" in English. "Jalousie" is also an English word describing window blinds with wide slats that move up and down by a bar running down the center of the window. Both meanings figure largely in the novel. We won't summarize the novel here; we'll analyze it. If you want to know what's in it, read it in French or English, and check out the excellent study guide available on this website.

It's hard to call Jealousy a novel. It doesn't have much of a plot. The characters are flat. It's got no discernible conflict, its themes are opaque, and it's hard to see how anything is resolved. Indeed, Robbe-Grillet wrote La Jalousie this way on purpose. It was his attempt at what he called "the new novel," which was meant to save literature from itself. He thought that, after a fecund hundred years to the end of World War II, the novel was lost. His experiment with new forms launched a movement, of which La Jalousie is the first, best example.

Reading the story itself is like watching a film. A person we presume is A's husband watches her and Franck. He looks at the house and its grounds. He notices everything and reports it in minute detail. You get the sense, reading it, that this could be a screenplay or precise instructions for creating a tableau. It's almost as if this is the point of the story. We assume the narrator is jealous, because we impute motives for his observations, but we're never told this is the case. We're never told anything about the narrator, and we're never told anything which could ascribe morality or judgment to the actions he witnesses. In fact, we're never told the narrator is in fact a person. We could be looking through a camera or watching a video tape.

That's the key point. Robbe-Grillet wanted to create a new way of telling a story, and he succeeded. Whether the story is any good isn't important. What is important is the telling of the story. The absence of any characterization or theme leaves a big hole, as Robbe-Grillet said, and that hole is filled by the reader. The reader becomes the narrator, not by choice, but by necessity. You fill in the missing bits out of your own experience and conflicts. It's a brilliant trick, and even if you don't agree with it, you have to recognize it.

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