Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Although Pinget shuns labeling, his work reveals the influence of the New Novel and its advocates. In 1959, the French critic Maurice Blanchot observed that henceforth the novel “ought not to bring itself to a conclusion or be able to begin; a work which is, as it were, in default in terms of itself, at a distance from what it expresses and for what it expresses, it flourishes in that distance, deposits itself in it, preserves itself in it, and finally disappears in it.” Alain Robbe-Grillet, another important practitioner and theorist of contemporary literature, makes a similar point: “The modern an exploration, but an exploration which itself creates its own significations as it proceeds.... We no longer believe in the fixed significations, the ready-made meanings which afforded man the old divine order and subsequently the rationalist order of the nineteenth century.” In all Pinget’s writings, the world of Fantoine and Agapa is constantly changing, as characters seek to discover their identities and readers try to sort out the truth from among the incomplete and conflicting details.

At the same time that this novel typically presents an impressionistic view of reality, it is firmly rooted in the cycles of country life—the placing of chrysanthemums on the graves on All Saints’ Day, the late summer harvest, the delivery day at the bistro, the Sunday celebration of Mass. For all its talk of death, That Voice is filled with life: “cornflower, poppy, pheasant’s eye, betony,...meadow sage, butter-and-eggs, marjoram, delphinium, a fearful avalanche...that causes the resurgence of the old myths.” The book begins with the resurrection that the voice of the narrator seeks at its end. Alexandre is reincarnated in Theodore, who is reincarnated in Mademoiselle Moine, even if the gravediggers do jumble all the bones together. Recurrent metamorphosis creates confusion but also generates life. From chaos comes a voice that creates a world.