The Planetarium has often been called Sarraute’s masterpiece and has certainly been her most popular work. The novel is the most approachable of her works for several reasons. There is more evidence of a plot than in her other works, and the progression of the action is linear. There are also recognizable characters who can be identified not only by name but also by personality and relationships. Although there are several narrators, the shift in narration occurs at the beginning of each chapter, making the thoughts of the characters easier to apprehend.
The novel is structured around Alain Gumier’s attempt to gain possession of his aunt’s apartment and to ingratiate himself with the writer Germain Lemaire. This may seem to be very unpromising material for a novel, but Sarraute succeeds in extracting a range of emotional possibilities from the banal concerns of daily living. The disproportion between the insignificant events and the enormity of the tropisms that emerge from them is apparent from the opening chapter. In the opening pages, Alain’s Aunt Berthe excitedly anticipates the installation of an oak door only to become distressed by the cheap nickel-plated knob and by the nonchalance of the workmen. Typical of the primitive emotions characteristic of tropism, the trivial event assumes cataclysmic proportion, and the workmen become an advancing army of conquerors. Material objects, like the oak door or the leather chairs that...
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