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Jealousy - Alain Robbe-Grillet "The shadow of the column, though it is already very long, would have to be nearly a yard longer to reach the little round spot on the flagstones. From the latter runs a thin vertical thread which increases in size as it rises from the concrete substructure. It then climbs up the wooden surface, from lath to lath, growing gradually larger until it reaches the window sill. But its progression is not constant: the imbricated arrangement of the boards intercepts its route by a series of equidistant projections where the liquid spreads out more widely before continuing its ascent. On the sill itself, the paint has largely flaked off after the streak occurred, eliminating about three-quarters of the red trace."

The quote above is representative of the type of writing you will experience if you decide to read this novella. The narrator is presenting information to us through the lens of a camera, leaving out any conjecture that we instinctively use to fill in what we can’t see or understand. He never refers to himself or use the word I. The first time that I realize that he is in the frame of the scene being described is when there are two people being observed and a third plate on the table. The bus boy brings three glasses further confirming for me that the narrator is actually present and not just bloodshot eyes peering through a window blind.

JEALOUSY_zps74443d27In French "Jalousie" means both "jealousy" and "blinds".

The narrator is the husband of a woman referred to only as A. The other main character in this drama is a neighboring plantation owner named Franck. His wife Christiane is only referred to, but never enters the aperture of the scene. The husband, objectively is recording what he sees for us as he tries to ascertain from minimal information what exactly is going on with his wife and Franck. Because what he relates to us is so devoid of emotional coloring it is as if he is an alien presence and will require human intervention to make sense of what he is seeing.

As you can tell from the opening quote our narrator is aware of structure like an engineer or an architect would describe a man-made structure. Mathematics also plays a role, especially geometry. The narrator is comfortable using mathematical terms to describe what he is seeing. ”The base supporting the table consists of a slender triple stem whose strands separate to converge again, coiling (in three vertical planes through the axis of the system) into three similar volutes whose lower whorls rest on the ground and are bound together by a ring placed a little higher on the curve.”

He over describes what he sees down to the most insignificant detail as if he is afraid of missing some miniscule nuance that will be the key to the puzzle. He watches his wife comb her hair.

”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.”

This scene goes on for several more sentences revealing nothing that gets him closer to understanding if his wife is in fact cheating on him. Most men when watching their wife comb her hair, especially long hair, would find it a sensual experience. His objectivity is depriving him from even seeing her as a sexually desirable creature.

Roland Barthes writes an introduction to this book and does such a splendid job describing the writing structure of Alain Robbe-Grillet. His writing has no alibis, no resonance, no depth, keeping to the surface of things, examining without emphasis, favoring no one quality at the expense of another--it is as far as possible from poetry, or from ‘poetic’ prose. It does not explode, this language, or explore, nor it is obliged to charge upon the object and pluck from the very heart of its substance the one ambiguous name that will sum it up forever.

Alain Robbe-Grillet

I felt this growing unease as I continued to read this book. The narrator wants to know if his wife is unfaithful, but it is unclear what that will mean to him beyond knowing yet another fact. Is he violent? Will the emotion unexpressed suddenly become uncontrollable? I do know that he will continue to record what he sees, relentlessly, trying to find something that will let him assemble the facts into known truths. A truly unusual reading experience that I found strangely invigorating. I have no qualms about reading the second novella In The Labyrinth. In fact I feel like I need to read more just to fully comprehend what exactly Alain Robbe-Grillet is trying to tell us.