Obooki’s Crash Course in the Nouveau Roman

Well, since I decided to join the Wolves on their reading of Sarraute’s The Planetarium, and since Mr Richard at caravanaderecuerdos has convinced himself I’m an expert of the nouveau roman and will be expecting some expert opinion from me, I’ve decided I better read up on it a bit – and what better way than another futile project (and a list!)?

Of course, we come to the immediate problem – what the hell is the nouveau roman? – A question I shall approach by the Josipovici method of re-defining the nouveau roman to be what I want it to be, and then telling everyone else they’re wrong. So my definition of the nouveau roman is, that it must be either:

  1. A French novel written post-1950, commonly understood to be a nouveau roman.
  2. A French novel written post-1950, commonly misunderstood to be a nouveau roman, or which could be argued as such.
  3. A precursor of either 1) or 2)
  4. Anything French, post-1950, which has been translated by either a) Dalkey Archive, or b) John Calder
  5. Julio Cortázar

Right, now we’ve got our definition straight, here’s what I’m reading:

  • Jealousy, by Alain Robbe-Grillet (John Calder)
  • The Flanders Road, by Claude Simon (John Calder) and one of either Conducting Bodies (John Calder) or Triptych (John Calder)
  • The Mise-en-Scène, by Claude Ollier (Dalkey Archive)
  • The Planetarium, by Nathalie Sarraute (John Calder), and one of either or both of Vous les Entendez? (Gallimard) and Disent les Imbéciles (Gallimard)
  • Moderato Cantabile, by Marguerite Duras (Les Éditions de Minuit)
  • The Hermit, by Eugène Ionesco (John Calder)
  • Zazie dans le Métro, by Raymond Queneau (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Cronus’ Children, by Yves Navarre (John Calder)
  • Life, A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec (Harvill)
  • Street Girl, by Muriel Cerf (John Calder)
  • Pélagie-la-charrette, by Antonine Maillet (Doubleday)
  • Locus Solus, by Raymond Roussel (Kindle Edition – French (and free!))
  • Paris Peasant, by Louis Aragon (Picador)
  • Some stuff by Jean Cocteau which I can’t currently find
  • Blow-Up and Other Stories, by Julio Cortázar (Pantheon), and possibly also Hopscotch (Rayuela)
  • French Fiction Revisited, by Leon S Roudiez (Dalkey Archive) – a non-fiction survey
  • Oh, and maybe some Beckett, eh? – Perhaps Molloy.
  • An odd OuLiPo book I bought last year for 99p whose name and author I’ve forgotten. (Oh yeah, the author was Jacques Jouet).

And, if I can summon the interest, I might have another go at Philippe Sollers’ Women. More Ionesco will probably be read in another as yet unstated project. I’m feeling the only major figure of the nouveau roman I don’t have is Michel Butor – if I find any in my wanderings, I’m sure to add him. (Robert Pinget has annoyed me enough that I’m not going back to him). – So I have to do all this by the end of November, which sounds unlikely – but let’s face it, a lot of these books are quite short.

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5 thoughts on “Obooki’s Crash Course in the Nouveau Roman

  1. Love your Josipovici-like strategy for redefining the nouveau roman, Obooki. Works for me! Also was interested in seeing you mention Rayuela as a nr since you’re the second person who’s mentioned that in my recent memory after not having heard that idea previously. Life a User’s Manual and now Rayuela would be inluded somewhere on my list of all-time favorites, and there are several other items on your list I’d like to put to the test some day. Will be interested in following this project of yours should you move forward with it.

  2. I suspect it’s because he’s listed as a nouveau roman writer on Wikipedia. (Though curiously not on French Wikipedia!).

    The definition by which I understand nouveau roman (and this might be coming from Robbe-Grillet’s essay on such – I’m really not sure) is that each of a writer’s works has to be “new” – to, in some way, bear no resemblance to any of his other works. This seems best to sum up Perec (and in no way to sum up either Robbe-Grillet or Simon, as far as I can see) – hence my inclusion. OuLiPo and nouveau roman do seem to have had more or less the same intentions, at least.

    I’ll certainly read some of these books (if not all). It’s a project more likely to succeed than most, I feel.

    Actually, I’ve never really been caught by Cortázar’s writing before – I’ve read the odd short story (had Rayuela for years, without ever opening it – like most books in my collection!); but I think my view’s probably changed after reading The Distances the other day.

  3. I’m going to add in: Robbe-Grillet’s Djinn and Raymond Queneau’s The Flight of Icarus, because I just ordered them (late novels are always more interesting!). – I was on a John Calder binge, and I ordered a book by Aiden Higgins too, but I don’t suppose he counts. Never read any, but Mr Mills was always recommending him.

  4. Which Higgins did you get? I have Balcony of Europe sitting at home, and have nearly picked it up a couple of time this year before chickening out at the last minute.

    Mr Mills is indeed a powerful advocate for Higgins, but I wish he’d do a full piece on one of the books (Balcony preferably) for the Gruan.

  5. No, it’s Scenes from a Receding Past. Balcony of Europe seems the more famous, reading Wikipedia, since it won a prize (or something). (I was troubled last night, lying in bed, thinking I’d spelled his name wrong, which I had).

    No doubt BM will do a piece at some point.

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