Dalkey Archive, £9.50
A Sentimental Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet; trans. DE Brooke, book review
Jonathan Gibbs reviews books for The Independent and elsewhere. His novel Randall, about the contemporary art world and the fate of the YBAs, is published by Galley Beggar Press. He blogs on this aspect of his writing at tinycamels.wordpress.com
Thursday 15 May 2014
This , the final book by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the French writer and film-maker best known as the moving force behind the "nouveau roman" could be equally well served by a book-length disquisition on the function and effect of pornography – on the page, on the reader and on society at large – or by being dumped in the nearest bin. A review seems rather beside the point.
A short novel, published in France the year before his death in 2008, it is a studied exercise in obscenity, an homage to the Marquis de Sade that goes well beyond what the 18th-Century libertarian came up with, even in his 120 Days of Sodom. Much of what it contains cannot be printed here, but suffice it to say that the violation and torture of young girls by older men, often to death, is more about violence than sex.
A rich father is raising his only daughter as a sex slave, following the death of her mother, but also as a dominatrix, with other girls for her to torture. It starts with Gigi, dressed only in "a black frou-frou lace corset that pushes up her young breasts", being lightly whipped by her father as she reads passages from (we assume) Sade, and ends with winches, chains, burnings and scalpings of pubescent and pre-pubescent girls.
As such, it is hardly pornographic at all – indeed one interpretation of the book might be that it is a psychological test, to see at what stage the reader gives up on even thinking about being aroused by it. Another interpretation would be that the offensiveness, too, is beside the point –the tone is far from licentious, but rather breezily detached, making it, if not enjoyable, then less gruelling than you might suppose.
There have been plenty of critics ready to defend Sade for his attack on Enlightenment rationality, not least Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Sontag, but it is difficult to know what this book teaches us about our own time. There is nothing in it to mirror the explosion of online porn, nor to help us understand real sexual violence, such as the hundreds of women assaulted and murdered in Cuidad Juárez in Mexico since the mid-1990s.
So, while it is possible to wax critical about the book's political purpose and stylistic fastidiousness, it is dispiriting to read Robbe-Grillet admit, in his Paris Review interview, that "my own erotic tastes are rather sadistic". Perhaps this is just the final provocation of a dirty old man, after all. In which case: bin.
Jonathan Gibbs's novel, 'Randall', is published by Galley Beggar Press in June
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Revealed after 75 years of secrecy: 'Fifi' the glamorous WW2 special agent who tested British spies' resolve
- 5 Have you heard about the film Singapore has banned its people from watching? Well, you have now
Laurie Lee's Rosie: What is it like to inspire a writer's work and be immortalised forever on the page?
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
Doctor Who series 8: Time Heist pictures revealed ahead of episode 5
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Star Wars 7 leaked set photo of Adam Driver changes everything
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'