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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Another book that I read for uni, I went into the book with no expectations or standards for it to meet, mainly because I'd not really heard of it before. And now, having just finished it, I can't say I have many more impressions of it than I did before I began.

So, first things first, the plot. What is it about? A very good question and not one that I can answer particularly well. At it's most basic, it's a story about life on a banana plantation somewhere in Africa. That is also the plot at it's most certain and comprehensible. To be quite honest, I had very little idea of what was actually going on at any one time, as there are virtually no segues between setting and due to the routine nature of the characters' lives there is very little sense of actual time scale; I couldn't tell whether this was a linear storyline, a circular storyline or whether the author just decided to take random leaps in the allotted time scale he'd written about. Now I'm all for experimental novels and circular time scales that add to a scene the more times you see it, but this seems to have forgotten the part about adding extra things. Plus, the scenes themselves are very inconsequential, so I've finished reading this wondering what the story was actually about, which is highly dissatisfying.
The characters aren't much better. There are a fair few characters mentioned, but the only ones worth really mentioning are A..., Franck and the nameless narrator. A... is our female lead, the person whom the narrator mainly focuses on. She is a mystery. The narrator does hint several times that there may be more to her beneath the surface, and frankly I'd like to believe that because if we only go by what is on the surface, she has all the personality of an automaton. All she is seen to do throughout the novel is act as a near-silent hostess, write letters, brush her hair and occasionally get scared of centipedes. The regular guest at the plantation is Franck, a man whose entire purpose seems to be to drive A... places, make in-jokes with her about a novel they're both reading, squash centipedes and have constant troubles with one of the trucks on his plantation. And then there's the narrator. Where do I begin with this? The narrator was one of the few things with actual potential in this book. He's constantly there with A... and Franck, but they never make reference to him. So who is he? Husband, friend, relative? What?! It's a question that is never answered, but I could deal with that; a nameless narrator has worked many a time before. The problem with the narrator here is that he is hinted to be an actual character (he does occasionally interact with the servants a little bit and he has a place laid each night at dinner) but doesn't do anything noteworthy throughout the entire narrative. For all the impact he made, he might as well not have been an actual character at all.
So far, I've essentially ripped this book to shreds. Is there anything I actually liked about this? The writing style is admittedly interesting. I felt I got to know the setting better than the people simply because the narrator spends a huge amount of time describing every single detail of whatever part of the house/plantation the reader is supposed to be looking at. It's quite difficult to imagine at first as it's stuff that the eye would take in immediately, but after a while you do get used to it and it is very well written, even cinematic at times. But to be honest, it's still not really enough to redeem the non-existent plot and paper-thin characters.

My final opinion of this is one of disappointment really. At first I was intrigued by the fact that there was very little given away detail-wise, combined with the unusual writing style. But then nothing was added to all the mystery, which is frustrating because you can't create an emotional attachment to an enigma. 2/5

Next review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Signing off,


  1. It's so frustrating to finish a book and not have a clear grasp on it. Sometimes, all one can do is walk away with a certain mood. I often find that with books in translation, and once I understand the culture a little more, or read more from the same author, I can appreciate the books a little better.

    Lolita is an interesting read. One in which I felt a surprising amount of compassion for the pediophile. Not to say that he's exonerated, by any means. I'll be interested in your thoughts when you finish.

  2. Bellezza - I imagine that if I hadn't had to read this for university, it would have been abandoned long before the end. I suppose I'll appreciate it more after I've analysed it to death in class though ;P

    Halfway through Lolita now. Very interesting thus far. I imagine I'll have a fair bit to discuss when I do finish it.