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Jealousy (Jupiter Books) by Alain…

Jealousy (Jupiter Books) (original 1959; edition 1995)

by Alain Robbe-Grillet

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419825,318 (3.75)13
Title:Jealousy (Jupiter Books)
Authors:Alain Robbe-Grillet
Info:Riverrun Pr (1995), Paperback, 103 pages
Collections:Novels, Your library
Tags:20th Century, French Literature, Fiction, Post Modernism

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Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1959)



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“The world is neither meaningful, nor absurd. it quite simply is, and that, in any case, is what is so remarkable about it.”
― Alain Robbe-Grillet

For anyone interested in exploring the fiction of the Nouveu Roman (New Novel), Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 100-page novella, “Jealousy,” would make for a great start, a prime example of the author’s unique style, a style highlighting precise, mathematical and frequently repetitive descriptions of objects rather than the novel’s more traditional emphasis on inner psychology or stream-of-consciousness. Reading this short novel set on a banana plantation within the tropics made for one unique literary experience; more specifically, here are six themes most piquant:

Novel As Film
English “Jealousy” is a translation of the French “Jalousie,” and in French there is a second meaning of this word -- ‘shutters’, that is, window shutters. Actually, I don’t know if any other reviewer or literary critic noted a third possible meaning: camera shutter, as in camera shutter speed working in concert with the aperture settings of a film camera. It’s this third meaning I particularly enjoy since one possible interpretation of the novel is ‘novel-as-film,’ that is, the two main character, a man and a women, could be leading actors in a film with the objective 3rd person narrator as film director, Incidentally, Robbe-Grillet was one of the top French film directors of his day.

Detail, Detail, Detail
On the first two pages we are given a blueprint of the house, courtyard and surrounding banana trees along with a legend labeling ten different parts of the house. And throughout the novel the detail continues, expressed in a kind of mechanical drawing length-and-width language, descriptions overwhelmingly visual, as if outlining specifics for a film crew to construct a set and do a filming. Mechanical engineering-like detail also applies to the surrounding banana trees, for example, here is a snippet from a full two pages description: “Without bothering with the order in which the actually visible banana trees and the cut banana trees occur, the sixth row gives the following number: twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty, nineteen – which represent respectively the rectangle, the true trapezoid, the trapezoid with a curved edge, and the same after subtracting the holes cut in the harvest.”

Alienation From Nature
The way the author writes about man-made objects and nature, one has the distinct impression the two main characters, Franck and A . . . (yes, we are only given the lady’s first initial and three dots) are in a running battle with such as engines continually breaking down as well as tropical heat, the deafening racket of crickets, the dark of the night and particularly one species of insect, sometimes wriggling, sometimes squished, described in minute detail: the centipede. Recall how Albert Camus wrote frequently about man’s estrangement and alienation from the world; also recall how Jean-Paul Sartre philosophized extensively about the alienation of human experience (being-for-itself) from objects and nature (being-in-itself). Alan Robbe-Grillet was much influenced by both Camus and Sartre.

Alienation From One’s Own Body
“Franck’s face as well as his whole body are virtually petrified.” A . . . is “Petrified by her own gaze.” Also, reference is made to the stiff movements of both A . . . and Franck, movements in sharp contrast to one of the Negros described as having a loose, quick gait. Sidebar: In Robbe-Grillet’s novel “The Erasers,” the main character, Wallas, is the one with the loose, quick gait and the people in the novel’s city are the ones that are stiff or flabby.

Novel Within a Novel
Both main characters are reading, reflecting and sharing their thoughts on an African novel that has many parallels with their own lives in the tropics. For me, this was a most fascinating part of this novella. At one point we read about Franck’s (and also the narrator’s) reaction to A . . . ‘s discussing various other possibilities the plot of this African novel could have taken: “Then Franck sweeps away in a single gesture all the suppositions they had just constructed together. It’s no use making up contrary possibilities, since things are the way they are, reality stays the same.” How about that; on the topic of things, the narrator (or possibly Franck) echoes Robbe-Grillet’s own disinclination to use simile and metaphor. And, by the way, not only are there nearly zero similes or metaphors in this novella, the sentences tend to be short and staccato.

Metafiction, anyone?
“The sentences become shorter and limit themselves for the most part, to repeating fragments of those spoken during their last two days, or even before.” Does this quote refer to the spoken sentences of the main characters or to the written sentences of the novella, or both? One more fascinating aspect we encounter – is the narrator really all that objective or is the narrator an integral part of the life of either or both of the main characters? The more I contemplate the possibilities at every turn in this little new novel, the more admiration I have for its author.

*Special thanks to Goodreads friend Ian for suggesting we both read and write separate reviews for this Robbe-Grillet novella. ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |

Lack of traditional narrative devices coupled with shifting layered repetition of dubiously relevant minutiae results in reading pleasure of mesmeric proportions. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 5, 2014 |
It is written in purely descriptive terms, it's as if the novel is the stage directions for a movie -- all the movements & actions of the characters are described, as is the setting, and from this the reader is able to discern the plot. I usually skip over the descriptive portions of most novels and should have disliked this entire book, but I found it beautiful. ( )
1 vote ELiz_M | Oct 12, 2013 |
A man suspects his wife is having an affair with his neighbor. He searches for proof, for clues, playing the same sequence of events over and over in his mind looking for signs. When did it begin? Do they suspect he knows? How far will the affair go?

Alain Robbe-Grillet's short novel, Jealousy, covers familiar territory-- a married woman's indiscretion with her married neighbor. But Mr. Robbe-Grillet breaks new ground, or I should say broke new ground when he wrote Jealousy in 1957. Where have the French been hiding him since?

Jealousy is a third-person first-person narrative. All but one of the scenes feature the husband and wife entertaining the neighbor who spends time at their house while his own wife stays home sick. But the husband is almost invisible. The third person narrator never mentions him. Instead, the narrator obsessively reviews what look like unimportant events in a stream of consciousness style that perplexes as much as it enlightens.

Try as he might, the narrator cannot find proof of the wife's infidelity. Glances over dinner, pauses in the conversation, even a night spent together in a hotel do not prove anything. There seems to be no grounds for jealousy. But suspiscion lingers. The reader understands that the wife and the neighbor must be up to something. Why keep going over the same set of events if they're not? Soon the reader becomes aware that the third person narrator is the husband--that the third person is really a first person narration. Obsessed with his wife's infidelity, the husband has written himself out of the novel as he jealously examines and re-examines how his wife and his neighbor behave.

One night, the neighbor kills a centipede as it crawls up the wall during an uneventful dinner. This event is observed in such detail and so many times from so many angles that the reader soon believes it must mean something. But what? The neighbor and the wife drive into town, a drive of several hours from the banana plantations where they live, and fail to return until the next day claiming bad road conditions prevented night travel. This also must mean something, but again what are we to make of it?

By the end, the experience of reading Jealously becomes the experience of jealousy itself. There is no resolution, no linear plot, not much in the way of character either. Instead, the novel takes the reader into the emotion. Jealousy is the novel's main character in the end. It serves no purpose, it is not resolved, it has no single cause nor anything to support its existence except itself. Jealousy gives birth to itself and feeds itself as it grows.

Jealousy knocked my socks off. It's the best books I've read in a very long time. I'm thrilled to find something so fresh, even if it is 50 years old. I know it's only January, but this one is sure to make my best reads of 2011 list. Alain Robbe-Grillet, where have you been all my life? ( )
1 vote CBJames | Jul 17, 2011 |
I read some Robbe-Grillet novels when I was a student and thiught I enjoyed them. In retrospect I think I thought they were dry and sterile.
  jon1lambert | Nov 18, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0714503118, Paperback)

In his most famous and perhaps most typical work, Robbe-Grillet explores his principle preoccupation, the meaning of reality. The novel is set on a tropical banana plantation and the action is seen through the eyes of a narrator who never appears in person, never speaks and never acts. He is a point of observation, his personality only to be guessed at, watching every movement of the other two characters' actions and events as they flash like moving pictures across the distorting screen of a jealous mind. The result is one of the most important and influential books of our time, a completely integrated masterpiece that has already become a classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:23 -0400)

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