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103 pages, Paperback
First published May 1, 1957
Besides, she was no longer facing Franck at that moment. She had just moved her head back and was looking straight ahead of her down the table, toward the bare wall where a blackish spot marks the place where a centipede was squashed last week, at the beginning of the month, perhaps the month before, or later.
Besides, she has not awakened just now. It is obvious she has already taken her shower. She is still wearing her dressing gown, but her lips are freshly made up – the lipstick color the same as their natural color, a trifle deeper, and her carefully brushed hair gleams in the light from the window when she turns her head, shifting the soft, heavy curls whose black mass falls over the white silk of her shoulder.
The face, hidden because of her position, is bending over the table where the invisible hands are busy with some long-drawn-out and laborious task: mending a stocking, polishing nails, a tiny pencil drawing, erasing a stain or a badly chosen word. From time to time she straightens up and leans back to judge her work from a distance. With a slow gesture, she pushes back a shorter strand of hair which has come loose from this unstable arrangement and is annoying her.
In French "Jalousie" means both "jealousy" and "blinds".
”The brush descends the length of the loose hair with a faint noise something between the sound of a breath and a crackle. No sooner has it reached the bottom than it quickly rises again toward the head, where the whole surface of its bristles sinks in before gliding down over the black mass again. The brush is a bone-colored oval whose short hands disappears almost entirely in the hand firmly gripping it.
Half the hair hangs down the back, the other hand pulls the other half over one shoulder. The head leans to the right, offering the hair more readily to the brush. Each time the latter lands at the top of its cycle behind the nape of the neck, the head leans farther to the right and then rises again with an effort, while the right hand, holding the brush moves the opposite direction. The left hand, which loosely confines the hair between the wrist, the palm and the fingers, releases it for a second and then closes on it again, gathering the strands together with a firm, mechanical gesture, while the brush continues its course to the extreme tips of the hair.”
A woman and her male friend sit on her porch, having drinks and discussing a novel. Her suspicious husband (?) watches them through a nearby window's Venetian blinds (get it? Jalousie = jealousy and a window with slatted blinds! Let's hear it for French puns!). Husband (?) fantasizes about the friend's death. Construction workers repair a decaying bridge on the edge of the property. Woman writes a letter. Friend comes over for dinner. Friend squashes a centipede. Woman combs her hair. Crickets chirp. Repeat ad nauseam in fragmentary, temporally disjointed ways, then mix in some nonsense about geometric arrangements of banana trees and the quotidian movement of a column's shadow and that's pretty much this novel in a nutshell. Unfortunately, I lost interest in cracking this nut around the 40-page mark (meaning it was quite a long, irritating journey through the remaining 60).
Before I continue, let it be known that I'm absolutely in favor of cryptic, challenging, experimental literature ... but this novel simply bored me. Any sort of fascination I might have developed toward its circular rhythms, its enigmatic understatements, its sinister atmospheres, was quickly stifled by Robbe-Grillet's mundane repetitiveness and Sahara-dry prose — which was probably his intention. In his essay Objective Literature, Roland Barthes writes:
While these quotes help me to better understand the novel on a fundamental level, I must admit that the concepts don't appeal to me at all, and are at odds with what I crave from literature. I won't pretend to have a thorough understanding of the nouveau roman or of Robbe-Grillet's place in the evolution of the modern literary novel, but I have a feeling that my emotional and aesthetic sensibilities just aren't meant to be in step with the proponents and enthusiasts of the aforementioned movement and author. In fact, the only positive remark I can make regarding this book is that there are times when it does an impressive job of conjuring its lone setting; it made me feel as though I had been transported to an exotic, albeit claustrophobic and disturbing, location somewhere beyond the limits of reality. This, to me, is priceless.
"By his exclusive and tyrannical appeal to the sense of sight, Robbe-Grillet undoubtedly intends the assassination of the object, at least as literature has traditionally represented it. In literature, at least, we live, without even taking the fact into account, in a world based on an organic, not a visual order. Therefore the first step of this knowing murder must be to isolate objects, to alienate them as much from their usual functions as from our own biology. [Robbe-Grillet] allows them a merely superficial relation to their situation in space [and] deprives them of all possibility of metaphor ... he intends nothing less than a definitive interrogation of the object, a cross-examination from which all lyric impulses are rigorously excluded.
... Robbe-Grillet's purpose is to establish the novel on the surface: once you can set its inner nature, its "interiority," between parentheses, then objects in space, and the circulation of men between them, are promoted to the rank of subjects. The novel becomes man's direct experience of what surrounds him without his being able to shield himself with a psychology, a metaphysic, or a psychoanalytic method in his combat with the objective world he discovers."
Having read none of his other books, my only prior experience with Robbe-Grillet's work had been in the realm of cinema: L'Année dernière à Marienbad (1961), for which he wrote the screenplay. This unnerving, dreamlike film does share some similarities with La Jalousie — except for the fact that I loved it! Perhaps Robbe-Grillet's experiments with temporality and objectivity are better-suited to the visual possibilities of filmmaking — someday I'll give his own directorial efforts a chance. Until then, it will take some rather hefty convincing to encourage my exploration of the rest of his literary output.
It is doubtless the same poem continuing. If the themes sometimes blur, they only occur somewhat later, all the more clearly, virtually identical. Yet these repetitions, these tiny variations, halts, regressions, can give rise to modifications--though barely perceptible--eventually moving quite far from the point of departure.
The singing is at moments so little like what is ordinarily called a song, a complaint, a refrain, that a western listener is justified in wondering if something quite different is involved. The sounds, despite apparent repetitions, do not seem related by any musical law. There is no tune, really, no melody, no rhythm. It is as if the man were content to utter unconnected fragments as an accompaniment to his work.