Obooki’s Futile Nouveau Roman Project

For October, I’ve been thinking of forgetting the many books I’m currently reading (once again, I’m getting nowhere), and concentrating instead entirely on the Nouveau Roman (and some non-fiction too, which seems to be stimulating me a bit more at the moment). – If I’m not getting on well with novels, some anti-novels will be just the thing.

I’ve been in shops and on the internet since I compiled my original list, and have the following additions:

  • Djinn, by Alain Robbe-Grillet (John Calder)
  • In the Labyrinth, by Alain Robbe-Grillet (John Calder)
  • Impressions of Africa, by Raymond Roussel (Oneworld Classics)
  • Plays vol.2, by Eugene Ionesco (John Calder)
  • The Girl Beneath the Lion, by André Pierre de Mandiargues (John Calder)
  • Tropisms / The Age of Suspicion, by Nathalie Sarraute (John Calder)

I’m also adding two English-language books by people who may or may not have been influenced by the nouveau roman, and whom I’ve never in particular had my attention drawn towards before (not even by those avant-garde-loving bloggers whose only interest in life is to demonstrate how much better read they are in the avant-garde than you) or – in the case of the second one – even heard of:

Heppenstall I only discovered because he’s the English translator of Raymond Roussel, which I thought must make him at least an interesting character. Anyone heard of him / read anything by him?

Brophy I often see about, but have always passed by. I’ve started In Transit. It’s very enjoyable: but it’s one of those novels you read with a foolhardy terror that you’re going to make any sense of the next paragraph (which is a feeling these days I usually reserve for novels in French).

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8 thoughts on “Obooki’s Futile Nouveau Roman Project

  1. Heppenstall, I believe, was highly praised by the late Martin Seymour Smith, former owner of one of your books. I have twice seen his novels in second-hand shops, and gone so far as to consider buying them for about 10 seconds or so. I’d be interested to read your verdict.

  2. I was actually wondering whether to buy Seymour-Smith’s 1000-page overview of c20th literature, it sounded interesting – but perhaps was put off by the fact that he dismissed Lawrence Durrell’s writings.

  3. Raymond Roussel is good but he’s more of a non-affiliated surrealist than part of Robbe-Grillet’s gang isn’t he? Likewise Ionesco but I’ve only ever seen his plays so his novels might well be Robbe-Grillet-esque. I read his diaries decades ago and enjoyed them.

    Thematically I’d replace both of them with Margeurite Duras – particularly her early novels where all the concerns of the Nouveau Roman are there but the writing style is still quite conventional.

  4. Yes, it’s true. I guess part of the project is to determine what is and isn’t a nouveau roman, and I’ve included in a lot of things that seems to me precursors or at least influential. Though to be honest, I’m not sure how much that is genuine nouveau roman is also Robbe-Grillet-esque.

    On the other hand, Claude Simon’s Conducting Bodies, which I’ve just started, seems the very definition of nouveau roman.

    Duras I’ve always found a bit boring, though I am meant to be reading Moderato Cantabile (in French, as well).

  5. I flicked through that Seymour-Smith overview many times during idle undergraduate hours, of which there were many. It’s quite entertaining: very opinionated, and quite unpredictable until you’ve read quite a bit. I did wonder about the way it was put together, though. As far as I remember, Seymour-Smith was the author of the whole thing and no mere editor; I don’t recall any support team being credited. Surely he can’t have read so much as to give an expert summary of every national literature in the 20th century? For one thing, he can’t have been polyglot enough to have read everything in the original language, and yet there’s no mention of translation issues when praising/dispraising authors’ styles.

  6. My other half had a couple of books that focussed on the whole global gamut of literature by someone who appeared to have read everything. I can’t remember the author but it sounds like it could have been Seymour-Smith. The opinions were extraordinarily contrarian as if the history of literature had been written by Julie Burchill.

    Anything remotely well-known was slated , unknowns were praised to the hilt and Proust was written off because Scott-Moncrieff the translator was homosexual. In fact homosexuality was reason enough to criticise.

    If it’s not Seymour-Smith then he has competition.

  7. Yes, it all sounds like Seymour Smith. – He was clearly reading Sarraute in English, of course: I have his copy as proof.

    I’ve succumbed to buying his opus now. It turned out to be 1442 pages – so a trip down to the sorting office I should think when it arrives! – Well, he might turn up some obscure names I don’t know about.

  8. I’ve given up on Heppenstall already, I’m afraid – only 20 or so pages in. Boring, not really going anywhere. It’s strangely written (in a sort of Robbe-Grillet, describing everything obsessively type of way), but there’s just something missing, some thoroughly average about it.

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