Tuesday, December 15, 2015


In a house next to a banana plantation resides a woman known only as "A..."

She receives a visitor named Franck, who arrives without his wife, Christiane. The house, a servant, and the surroundings are described in precise but monotonous detail, e.g. the angle of a shadow on the veranda and a squashed cockroach on the wall. Fragments of banal conversation are overheard.

There is no narrative flow, just a series of scenes presented out of order, rather like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle dumped on a table. The fragmented tale is all surfaces, and many of the bits are obsessively repetitious, as though being viewed from different angles in order to extract meaning from them.

Here's a typical passage, which occurs when A... and Franck are sitting side-by-side on the balcony having a drink:

The four hands are lying in a row, motionless. The space between A...'s left hand and Franck's right hand is approximately two inches.

It's hardly rivetting, yet the passage is brilliant and typical Robbe-Grillet with the focus on meaningless numbers. And those four hands! They suggest a point of view mysteriously unnamed in the narrative, which is told as though through slitted eyes.

At first it's not clear what the point of the story is, but after a while it appears that the central event is a trip to the city, and that it is not upcoming but has already taken place, during which an auto breakdown necessitated an overnight stay.

The story ends with no overt denouement and leaves it to the reader to make sense of what's going on. The novel's title supplies a clue. Could the story's mysterious and unnamed narrator, his presence deduced by the lacuna it leaves, be A...'s husband? Are his obsessive observations due to suspicion that the trip to the city and the breakdown of the auto were not entirely innocent?

Included is a plan of the house, which seems as pointless as the "four hands" and "two inches" noted above, yet is another example of the neurotic nature of the story. The legend is as follows:

I. Southwest pillar & its shadow at beginning of novel
II. Veranda: 1) Franck's chair, 2) A...'s chair, 2) empty chair, 5) cocktail table
III. A...'s room: 1) bed, 2) chest, 3) dressing table, 4) writing table, 5) wardrobe
IV. Office: 1) desk, 2) photograph of A...
V. Hallway
VI. Bathroom
VII. Small bedroom: 1) bed
VIII. Living/dining room: 1) sideboard, 2) table, 3) mark of centipede on wall
IX. Pantry
X. Storage room or other (not described)

It's a short novel, not much more than 100 pages, and in its elusiveness reminded me of Paul Auster, Stanislaw Lem, and the "condensed novels" of J.G. Ballard.