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Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts on Alain Robbe-Grillet's "Recollections of the Golden Triangle" and "Repetition" (by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was one of the masters of post-war French literature and a theoretician of the "new novel" which eschewed psychological investigations and character introspection in favor of clear descriptive prose full of imagery. In his novels we "visualize" the events but we have no particular insight into why they happen and there is a lot of ambiguity, so even today and many critical studies later and there is no consensus on what actually "happened" in some of the author's books...

For this reason his novels while tending to assume the structure of thrillers and mysteries, are in effect quite close to speculative fiction and in a few cases I would argue that they are sff-nal by any reasonable definition.

While I have almost all of his novels that have been translated into English and a few like Regicide that are French only and I fully read some four as of now, I also read quite a lot from a few others and I plan to read carefully all his oeuvre as time goes. Here I will present the two most impressive (imho) of Alain Robbe-Grillet's novels I've finished so far.

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"A provocative novel by the most influential living French writer, Recollections of the Golden Triangle is a tour de force: a literary thriller constructed of wildly diverse elements--fantasy and dream, erotic invention, and the stuff of popular fiction and movies taken to its farthest limits.

A secret door that is opened slightly by an electronic device, a beautiful hanged factory girl, a pale young aristocrat whose blood apparently nourishes his vampiric lover, the evil Dr. Morgan who conducts his experiments in "tertiary dream behavior," the beautiful and sinister women from the world of horror films, and the investigating police, who are not all what they seem to be, are just some of the ingredients of this intriguing new novel by the French master of the intellectual thriller, whose novels and films have effectively changed the way we can look at the "real" world today.

Recollections of the Golden Triangle challenges the reader to find his own meaning in its descriptions, clues, and contradictions, and to play detective by assembling the pieces of the fictional puzzle"

As the blurb above indicates pretty clearly, Recollections of the Golden Triangle is so crazy that it definitely belongs to the speculative field. While I read the book twice and I got at least a tentative idea about what it is all about, I would say that this is a novel to experience "raw" without trying too hard to make logical sense of the order of events, of their "reality" - it simply may be there may not be such, with the time/space shifts and the moving around of characters, pov's, narrative style...

Recollections of the Golden Triangle is a haunting and visual book that just throws at you unforgettable imagery and quite a lot of scenes from the novel stuck with me for a long time. If you want a mind bender which is short but offers more than novels three times its size, this one is highly recommended. Try opening it and see if it mesmerizes you - the Amazon listing linked above too has a few pages excerpt and I grabbed a picture of the first two paragraphs of the book from there.


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"Reminiscent of Orson Welles's The Third Man, Repetition is an atmospheric spy novel of violence, mystery, and tricks of the eye, set in a bombed-out 1949 Berlin. Henri Robin, a special agent of the French secret service, arrives in the ruined city and feels linked to it by a vague and recurrent memory. There is a shooting, a kidnapping, druggings, encounters with pimps and teenage whores, police interrogations, even torture. Bits and pieces of the Oedipus story resonate through the book's elegant labyrinth as Robin slowly senses that he was in Berlin before — as a child, with his mother, perhaps looking for his father. A brilliantly executed novel in prose of an almost hallucinatory richness, Repetition is proof that Robbe-Grillet's vision is, in a time of identity theft and porous nationhood, more relevant than ever."

Repetition is on its face a classical Cold War thriller as the blurb above indicates, but in reality the action is so over the top and the imagery so haunting and outlandish that the book is as close to sff as it gets, while standing withing accepted historical facts. This is a superb novel but one that is not for everyone with its hallucinatory prose, uncertain and shifting identities and themes of incest, forbidden love, s&m, Lolita... all taking places in the ruins of Germany in 1949.

Everyone encountered is not quite whom he or she seems but the main characters - our "hero" HR aka Henri Robin aka many other names - his seeming double (identity and role to be revealed later), his "handler", the older German officer that is a target of assassination and the mysterious mother and daughter pair of the American zone in Berlin whose past and relationships with the main characters above is also slowly revealed give this novel its power in addition to the superb prose.

Highly recommended and another novel that needs to be read at least twice since early happenings change or deepen their sense after later revelations so the second reading will be quite different than the first. Also in a contrast with Recollections of the Golden Triangle and showing the author's literary range, this novel starts slower and then accelerates in the second part to end in a pretty decisive, no controversy about what's what, finale.

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