on 1 December 2012
The novel as virtual reality.
The term virtual reality conjures up images of people strapping on funny headsets and being exposed to simulated environments; its goal is to make the participant feel as though he or she has stepped into another world, one that feels real or is at least able to recreate some of the conditions of a real experience. This is very much what reading Jealousy is like. Robbe-Grillet's novel, if one is in the right frame of mind, recreates many of the attendant emotions relative to jealousy.
Of course, just like with virtual reality one must approach Jealousy with an absence of cynicism, but if you do this is an almost mind-warping experience. Experience is the correct word, because this is not engaging as a story, the most one needs to know about the plot is summed up in the title. A jealous husband suspects his wife of infidelity. That is all.
What is striking is the construction of the story. It is almost entirely written as a stream of banal descriptive statements, similar to a series of stage directions, such as "A... is writing, sitting at the table near the first window." Strangely, for a novel named after an emotion there is no explicit emotional content. We are not told how the husband is feeling; we infer his psychological state from his behaviour, we infer his jealousy from his preoccupations. Apparently innocuous scenes are repeated numerous times, giving one the impression that the husband is continuously reliving, reimagining, these moments.
Even more remarkable is that the character of the husband is only apparent logically, not literally. What I mean by this is that he never reveals himself, is never active in any of the narrated events, we simply assume his presence because, for example, there are three places set at dinner (one for the wife, one for the chief suspect Franck, and one for an uninvolved but clearly present other). However, the effect is that one almost feels as though YOU are the other; that you are the cuckolded husband, that it is you who are watching, stalking, obsessing over this woman and her potential affair. One starts to feel the paranoia as one observes A... reading a letter, one imbues her every action with significance, regards all of her behaviour with suspicion.
on 15 April 2015
I finally got to read this extraordinary book (which had lain on my shelf forever). In fact it’s the most extraordinary book I’ve ever read – rather like a cubist painting with the one day repeated over and over from slightly different angles. What it all added up to I couldn’t say so, in the end, I was left underwhelmed. Also I skipped and skipped through the endless descriptions of rooms, walls, doors, corners so maybe I missed something symbolic perhaps, for example about the centipede that gets squashed every few pages. Still, it is good to see that someone can write outside the box, use lateral thinking to create a genuinely original piece of literature. .
on 10 January 2015
It's been a while since I read this book, but I still remember how taken aback I was by the descriptions of the super-mundane. It's the factuality of this work that astounded me - it was not glamourizing anything that much, it mixed the practical with raw, humane poesy. As a portrait of unspoken tension it is subtle & unflinchingly kind to the reader & almost neutrally impersonal towards the characters. There is such scope in this work, which takes understatement to a place where one can sit as a witness to difficulty & where the light of awareness is shone onto the emptiness of aloneness.