Why do people even bother to write exclusively to showcase a philosophy and pass off the resulting jumble of words as a story? That's an essay. It might be fiction i. Stories at least in my perhaps not-so-educated opinion should provide some entertainment. Unshielded philosophy leaves itself vulnerable to attack.
So, while it is interesting for a story to create meaning for objects through the sense of sight alone, Robbe-Grillet still uses human language to describe these objects. And whose sense of sight is this anyway? Humans', of course. And why would humans bother stop evaluating objects beyond what they see? Why would they take things out of context?
Humans understand the world around them by contextualizing objects. So, if these objects aren't actually supposed to be filtered through the human understanding -- if they exist independently of human experience -- then how are they being communicated to readers who are most likely human beings? Basic communication requires an understanding of language, which, last I checked, doesn't rely on sight.
What's the point? Hell if I know. Neither the two stories nor the three introductory essays could answer that question for me. Oh, wait. Maybe the reader is supposed to take up the role of contextualizing these objects. Sorry, Robbe-Grillet, but I have absolutely no desire to be one of your characters can I even call them that?? I'm a literary snob, but I don't have enough pretentiousness in me to even pretend to like this guy.
Just because something is inaccessible does not mean it is ingenious or even remotely intelligent. Sometimes it's just clunky and unstylish to the point of torture. I can understand why Robbe-Grillet despised traditional fiction. But please master the basics first. And if your experiments fail, admit it.
Don't keep at it and pretend you're worth anyone's time. This book did make me think a little bit. So two stars for that. However, if I couldn't appreciate structural risks I would have stopped at page ten. Maybe earlier. Also, the two stars are only for Jealousy. In the Labyrinth is complete one-star drivel. Jun 01, Michael McGrinder rated it it was ok Shelves: novel , avant-garde , nouvelle-something. It's as if you went to the theatre; the lights come up and there is a brilliantly-designed set, nice lighting. Time passes. End of Act One. Act Two: The lighting is different. Stage-hands move the set a little bit.
End of Act Two. Act Three: The lighting is again subtly different. The stage-hands move the set a little more. End of play. Were the stage-hands the characters? Was the set, the lighting? If you could sit through such a play and think it brilliant, you might It's as if you went to the theatre; the lights come up and there is a brilliantly-designed set, nice lighting.
If you could sit through such a play and think it brilliant, you might like this kind of fiction. If not, probably not. I sat through something similar once because a friend was in it. I wouldn't do it again. I read both pieces in this book. I should have stopped after the first. What was done was done brilliantly. I just don't understand why it was done at all. Apr 15, Pauline Butcher Bird rated it really liked it. I finally got to read Jealousy which had lain on my shelf forever. 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 I finally got to read Jealousy which had lain on my shelf forever.
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. Apr 03, Susan rated it really liked it. Jealousy is especially strange and fascinating. If you like Borges, I think you might also appreciate Robbe-Grillet. That said, it's not for everyone Recommended for lovers of the odd and the experimental.
Sep 23, Joseph rated it really liked it. Bare in mind, I only read the first novel Jealousy, but I found his style to be very postmodernist. It was descriptive to the nth degree, but his writing skills made it enjoyable to read many of the same sentences over and over. Nov 02, Cameron added it Shelves: heavy-fiction. Jealousy is a novel written in the first person, but which never contains the word "I". It took me pages to figure this out. The writing style is dense but not alienating.
I'm a little bit in love with him right now. Feb 20, joel rated it it was amazing Recommended to joel by: Ayla. Apr 15, Kate rated it it was amazing Shelves: postmodern. Fantastic attempt by Robbe-Grillet to write a novel almost chiefly consisting of description and the seeming relativity of a jealous narrator.
Jun 02, Derek rated it it was amazing. May 11, Blaaaao rated it it was amazing Shelves: alain. Jan 04, Calla rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , read-in One of the very few novels ever written that can come close to what it means to be mimetic. Jun 19, Andrew rated it it was amazing. Jan 13, Jon rated it really liked it. In this day and age, when content is everything, what is left to be said about this author? He heaped scorn on all the trappings of novelistic content, and raised form to a new level. From our continuing postmodern era the earlier period seems entirely alien, elitist folly even.
But even in these more closed times, the merit of Robbe-Grillet's nouveau roman styling is clear. Jealousy: Locating the narrator. Is there more to be said? Subtle, but subtle to a point where it becomes dry. Perhaps a In this day and age, when content is everything, what is left to be said about this author? Perhaps a little too dry, at least for my own taste. Three stars. Into the Labyrinth: A formal progression over Jealousy, which seemed closer to "pure" form than this one. Into the Labyrinth nonetheless pushes Robbe-Grillet's form of objects, if you could call it that, into something curiously resembling a painting, or perhaps is exactly that.
Five stars. The rating given splits the difference for the two novel format. Aug 06, Ethan Campbell rated it liked it. Jealousy is the kind of experimental work that sounds interesting when you hear it summarized It doesn't necessarily translate into an enjoyable read much of the time, and it gets confusing, but you'll be impressed anyone attempted it at all.
Jun 18, Lance Grabmiller rated it liked it Shelves: The repetitions and subtle changes throughout Jealousy lead to a strange sense of dread, much like The Voyeur. In the Labyrinth, through similar mechanisms leads to something more like Kafka. Jul 25, Cooper Cooper rated it really liked it.
When the outline is distinct enough to permit the shape to be identified with certainty, it is easy to find the original object again, not far away. For example, the circular shape has obviously been left by a glass ashtray which is lying beside it. The lampshade casts a circle of light on the ceiling, but this circle is not complete: it is intersected by the wall behind the table.
This wall, instead of being papered like the other three, is concealed from floor to ceiling and for the greater part of its width by thick red curtains made of a heavy velvety material. The story of In the Labyrinth is straightforward: the French have just lost a battle with the Germans, and the French soldiers—some deserters, some ordered to retreat—are falling back. One of these soldiers, the protagonist helps a wounded comrade to a hospital but the comrade dies, leaving word for his friend to convey his belongings in a biscuit box to his family.
Then he gets shot by Germans troops entering the city, and though nursed by a French woman, dies. Just about enough action for a typical short story—but Robbe-Grillet milked it into a novel. Since he thinks that language does not adequately describe the real world, Robbe-Grillet builds scenes around objects. More: he presents objects in the manner of a cubist painting, which tries to overcome time and space by showing the objects simultaneously from many perspectives. With an additional spin: many of the scenes are repetitions of earlier ones, but seen from slightly different angles.
Confusing at first, but it all comes clear in the end. Sort of. Does the technique work? Jun 20, Claire Townsend rated it it was amazing. This review is just for In The Labyrinth, and it's brilliant. The story can be loosely described as a solider delivering a box at the end of the war. However, the narrative is all broken up into small segments.
The story weaves through these small segments like a ribbon through beads on a necklace, going back through some, knotting around others, so that the reader is never really sure of the truth of what actually happened. Each segment also changes slightly as it's revisited, and we're never s This review is just for In The Labyrinth, and it's brilliant. Each segment also changes slightly as it's revisited, and we're never sure whether it's due to the soldier's fever, or simply a technique Robbe-Grillet is using as a comment on the mutability of memory- a technique he used in the film L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad.
Each of these segments are also in different areas of the town and one major one is in the picture on the wall and so kind of feel like small building blocks of the geography that then keep getting rearranged as you read. This fluidity is also true of the characters- some repeat themselves, some you're not sure of whether they are all the same person. The story itself feels very filmic, and you see jump-cuts, fades and overlapping pieces of film as you read, in a good way.
I'm not so sure about it right now, but needs a reread. Nov 17, snobbess sphaeritalius rated it it was amazing. At first I thought I would find Jealousy too didactic a practice of an ideology, based on some of the critical writing on Robbe-Grillet that rested solely on his style. But the writing is brilliant.
The heavy reliance on the visual, endless circling of descriptions played over and over out of sequence, with new details added, creates what Barthes' calls "a certain optical resistance May 26, Katie rated it it was amazing. The book I read is not exactly this version but a french one as I encountered it in a college french novel course.
Without the course, I probably would have not challenged to read it. But then one step further from the dry, aloof, seamingly purposeless narrations, we would find an intense, exotic, and even melancholic story of jalousy beamed through blinders to be deployed. The charm of this "nouvau roman new novel-genre " is that we can get a real story only when we become a truly active and su The book I read is not exactly this version but a french one as I encountered it in a college french novel course. The charm of this "nouvau roman new novel-genre " is that we can get a real story only when we become a truly active and subjective reader to construct it.
Dec 25, Ron rated it really liked it. What a fascinating way to write a novel. He comes as close as it seems possible to writing an objective description of a situation. The characters reveal no more interiority than the landscape or the house in which the story takes place. Everything that happens, all the "jealousy," has to be constructed by the reader. Certainly some novels can be consumed as passively as a TV show or movie, but this author writes in such a way as to demand something more of a reader. Totally worth it from my per What a fascinating way to write a novel.
Totally worth it from my perspective just for the intellectual engagement it demands. There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Readers also enjoyed. It is on the other side, too, that the highway passes, just below the edge of the plateau. This highway, the only road that gives access to the property, marks its northern border. A dirt road leads from the highway to the sheds and, lower still, to the house, in front of which a large cleared area with a very slight slope permits cars to be turned around.
The house is built on a level with this courtyard, from which it is separated by no veranda or gallery. On the three other sides, however, it is enclosed by the veranda. The slope of the terrain, more pronounced starting from the courtyard, causes the central portion of the veranda which runs along the front of the house on the south to stand at least six feet above the garden.
On all sides of the garden, as far as the borders of the plantation, stretches the green mass of the banana trees. On the right and the left, their proximity is too great, combined with the veranda's relative lack of elevation, to permit an observer stationed there to distinguish the arrangement of the trees; while further down the valley, the quincunx can be made out at first glance. In certain very recently replanted sectors—those where the reddish earth is just beginning to yield supremacy to foliage—it is easy enough to follow the regular perspective of the four intersecting lanes along which the young trunks are aligned.
This exercise is not much more difficult, despite their more advanced growth, for those sectors of the plantation on the opposite hillside: this, in fact, is the place which offers itself most readily to inspection, the place over which surveillance can be maintained with the least difficulty although the path to reach it is a long one , the place which the eye falls on quite naturally, of its own accord, when looking out of one or the other of the two open windows of the bedroom. Her back to the hall door she has just closed, A. She takes a few steps into the room, goes over to the heavy chest and opens its top drawer.
She shifts the papers in the right-hand side of the drawer, leans over and, in order to see the rear of the drawer better, pulls it a little further out of the chest. After looking a little longer, she straightens up and remains motionless, elbows close to her body, forearms bent and hidden by the upper part of her body—probably holding a sheet of paper between her hands. She turns toward the light now in order to continue reading without straining her eyes. Her inclined profile does not move any more. The paper is pale blue, the size of ordinary letter paper, and shows the creases where it has been folded into quarters.
Then, holding the letter in one hand, A. She unscrews the cap of her pen, then, after a glance to the right which does not include even the middle of the window-frame behind her , bends her head toward the writing-case in order to begin writing. The lustrous black hair falls in motionless curls along the line of her back which the narrow metal fastening of her dress indicates a little lower down. Now the shadow of the column—the column which supports the southwest corner of the roof—lengthens across the flagstones of this central part of the veranda, in front of the house where the chairs have been set out for the evening.
Against the west gable-end of the house, the sun falls on the wood about a yard and a half above the flagstone. The pantry is at the other end of this west wing of the veranda. Through its half-open door can be heard A.. The sun has disappeared behind the rocky spur that ends the main section of the plateau.
Sitting facing the valley, in one of the armchairs of local manufacture, A She continues reading, without raising her eyes, until the daylight becomes too faint. Then she raises her head, closes the book—which she puts within arm's reach on the low table—and remains staring straight in front of her, toward the openwork balustrade and the banana trees on the opposite slope, soon invisible in the darkness.
She seems to be listening to the noise that rises on all sides from the thousands of crickets inhabiting the low ground. But it is a continuous, ear-splitting sound without variations, in which nothing can be distinguished. Franck is here again for dinner, smiling, talkative, affable. Christiane has not come with him this time; she has stayed home with the child, who is running a slight fever. It is not unusual, these days, for her husband to come without her like this: because of the child, because of Christiane's own ailments—for her health has difficulty adapting itself to this hot, humid climate—and also because of her domestic problems, her difficulties managing her too numerous and poorly organized servants.
Tonight, though, A. At least she had had four places set. She gives orders to have the one that will not be used taken away at once. On the veranda, Franck drops into one of the low armchairs and utters his usual exclamation as to how comfortable they are. They are very simple chairs of wood and leather thongs, made according to A. She leans toward Franck to hand him his glass. Although it is quite dark now, she has given orders that the lamps should not be brought out, for—she says—they attract mosquitoes.
The glasses are filled almost to the brim with a mixture of cognac and soda in which a little cube of ice is floating. In order to avoid the danger of upsetting the glasses in the darkness, A. She rests her other hand on the arm of the chair and bends over him, so close that their heads touch. He murmurs a few words: probably thanking her. She straightens up gracefully, picks up the third glass —which she is not afraid of spilling, for it is much less full—and sits down beside Franck, while he continues telling the story about his engine trouble, which he had begun the moment he arrived.
It was A The one she invited Franck to sit in and her own are side by side against the wall of the house—backs against this wall, of course—beneath the office window. So that Franck's chair is on her left, and on her right—but farther forward—the little table where the bottles are. For the same reason these last two chairs are not turned to face the rest of the group: they have been set at an angle, obliquely oriented toward the openwork balustrade and the hillside opposite.
This arrangement obliges anyone sitting there to turn his head around sharply toward the left if he wants to see A. The third, which is a folding chair made of canvas stretched on a metal frame, occupies a distinctly retired position between the fourth chair and the table. But it is this chair, less comfortable, which has remained empty. Franck's voice continues describing the day's problems on his own plantation. She encourages him from time to time by a few words indicating her attention. During a pause the sound of a glass being put down on the little table can be heard.
On the other side of the balustrade, toward the opposite hillside, there is only the sound of the crickets and the starless dark of the night. In the dining room the two kerosene lamps are lit. One is at the edge of the long sideboard, toward its left end; the other on the table itself, in the empty place of the fourth guest.
The table is square, since extra leaves unnecessary for so few people have not been added. The three places set are on three sides, the lamp on the fourth. On the sideboard, to the left of the second lamp that is, on the side of the open pantry door , are piled the clean plates which will be used during the meal. To the right of the lamp and behind it—against the wall—a native pitcher of terracotta marks the middle of the sideboard. Farther to the right, against the gray-painted wall, is outlined the magnified and blurred shadow of a man's head—Franck's. He is wearing neither jacket nor tie, and the collar of his shirt is unbuttoned; but the shirt itself is irreproachably white, made of a thin material of high quality, the French cuffs held together by detachable ivory links.
Franck almost had an argument with his wife about it, when Christiane criticized its cut as being "too hot for this country. The boy comes in through the open pantry door, holding the tureen full of soup in both hands. As soon as he puts it down, A. The boy lifts the lamp by the handle and carries it to the other end of the room, setting it down on a piece of furniture A. The table is immediately plunged into shadow.
Its chief source of light has become the lamp on the sideboard, for the second lamp—in the opposite direction—is now much farther away. On the wall, toward the pantry door, Franck's head has disappeared. His white shirt no longer gleams as it did just now beneath the direct light of the lamp on the table. His face has the light almost directly behind it. He drinks his soup in rapid spoonfuls. Although he makes no excessive gestures, although he holds his spoon quite properly and swallows the liquid without making any noise, he seems to display, in this modest task, a disproportionate energy and zest.
It would be difficult to specify exactly in what way he is neglecting some essential rule, at what particular point he is lacking in discretion. Avoiding any notable defect, his behavior, nevertheless, does not pass unnoticed. And, by contrast, it accentuates the fact that A. It takes a glance at her empty though stained plate to discover that she has not neglected to serve herself.
Memory succeeds, moreover, in reconstituting several movements of her right hand and her lips, several comings and goings of the spoon between the plate and her mouth, which might be considered as significant. To be still more certain, it is enough to ask her if she doesn't think the cook has made the soup too salty.
Now the boy clears away the plates. It then becomes impossible to check again the stains in A. But he is wrong to trust modern trucks to the Negro drivers, who will wreck them just as fast, if not faster. On the strength of his three years' experience, Franck believes there are good drivers, even among the Negroes here. She has kept out of the discussion about the comparative quality of the machines, but the question of the drivers provokes a rather long and categorical intervention on her part.
Besides, she might be right. In that case, Franck would have to be right too. Both are now talking about the novel A. The heroine cannot bear the tropical climate like Christiane. The heat actually seems to give her terrible attacks: "It's all mental, things like that," Franck says. He then makes a reference, obscure for anyone who has not even leafed through the book, to the husband's behavior. Franck looks at A. She gives him a quick smile that is quickly absorbed in the shadows. She has understood, since she knows the story. No, her features have not moved.
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Their immobility is not so recent: the lips have remained set since her last words. The fugitive smile must have been a reflection of the lamp, or the shadow of a moth. 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.
Franck's face, with the light almost directly behind it, does not reveal the slightest expression. The boy comes in to clear away the plates. Here the darkness is complete. No one talks any more. The sound of the crickets has stopped. Only the shrill cry of some nocturnal carnivore can be heard from time to time, and the sudden drone of a beetle, the clink of a little porcelain cup being set on the low table.
Franck and A. It is once again the chair with the metal frame which has remained unoccupied. The position of the fourth chair is still less justified, now that there is no view over the valley. Even before dinner, during the brief twilight, the apertures of the balustrade were too narrow to permit a real view of the landscape; and above the hand-rail nothing but sky could be seen. The wood of the balustrade is smooth to the touch, when the fingers follow the direction of the grain and the tiny longitudinal cracks. A scaly zone comes next; then there is another smooth surface, but this time without lines of orientation and stippled here and there with slight roughnesses in the paint.
In broad daylight, the contrast of the two shades of gray—that of the naked wood and that, somewhat lighter, of the remaining paint—creates complicated figures with angular, almost serrated outlines. On the top of the handrail, there are only scattered, protruding islands formed by the last vestiges of paint. On the balusters, though, it is the unpainted areas, much smaller and generally located toward the middle of the uprights, which constitute the spots, here incised, where the fingers recognize the vertical grain of the wood.
At the edge of the patches, new scales of the paint are easy to chip off; it is enough to slip a fingernail beneath the projecting edge and pry it up by bending the first joint of the finger; the resistance is scarcely perceptible. On the other side of the veranda, once the eye is accustomed to the darkness, a paler form can be seen outlined against the wall of the house: Franck's white shirt.
His forearms are lying on the elbow-rests. The upper part of his body is leaning back in the chair. But perhaps Franck understands them, if he already knows them, from having heard them often, perhaps with her. Perhaps it is one of her favorite records. The space between A.. The shrill cry of some nocturnal carnivore, sharp and short, echoes again toward the bottom of the valley, at an unspecifiable distance. It's so pleasant sitting out here. But he mentions only the hour he must get up the next morning, without making any reference to Christiane.
The same shrill, short cry, which sounds closer, now seems to come from the garden, quite near the foot of the veranda on the east side. As if echoing it, a similar cry follows, coming from the opposite direction. Others answer these, from higher up, toward the road; then still others, from the low ground. Sometimes the sound is a little lower, or more prolonged.
There are probably different kinds of animals. Still, all these cries are alike; not that their common characteristic is easy to decide, but rather their common lack of characteristics: they do not seem to be cries of fright, or pain, or intimidation, or even love. They sound like mechanical cries, uttered without perceptible motive, expressing nothing, indicating only the existence, the position, and the respective movements of each animal, whose trajectory through the night they punctuate.
Neither one has moved. They are sitting side by side, leaning back in their chairs, arms lying on the elbow- rests, their four hands in similar positions, at the same level, lined up parallel to the wall of the house. Now the shadow of the southwest column—at the corner of the veranda on the bedroom side—falls across the garden. The sun, still low in the eastern sky, rakes the valley from the side.
The rows of banana trees, growing at an angle to the direction of the valley, are everywhere quite distinct in this light. From the bottom to the upper edge of the highest sectors, on the hillside facing the one the house is built on, it is relatively easy to count the trees; particularly opposite the house, thanks to the recent plantings of the patches located in this area. The valley has been cleared over the greater part of its width here: there remains, at present, nothing but a border of brush some thirty yards across at the top of the plateau which joins the valley by a knoll with neither crest nor rocky fall.
The line of separation between the uncultivated zone and the banana plantation is not entirely straight. It is a zigzag line, with alternately protruding and receding angles, each belonging to a different patch of different age, but of a generally identical orientation.
Just opposite the house, a clump of trees marks the highest point the cultivation reaches in this sector. The patch that ends here is a rectangle. The ground is invisible, or virtually so, between the fronds. Still, the impeccable alignment of the boles shows that they have been planted only recently and that no stems have as yet been cut. Starting from this clump of trees, the patch runs downhill with a slight divergence toward the left from the greatest angle of slope.
There are thirty-two banana trees in the row, down to the lower edge of the patch. Prolonging this patch toward the bottom, with the same arrangement of rows, another patch occupies the space included between the first patch and the little stream that flows through the valley bottom. This second patch is twenty-three trees deep, and only its more advanced vegetation distinguishes it from the preceding patch: the greater height of the trunks, the tangle of fronds, and the number of well-formed stems.
Besides, some stems have already been cut. But the empty place where the bole has been cut is then as easily discernible as the tree itself would be with its tuft of wide, pale-green leaves, out of which comes the thick curving stem bearing the fruit. Furthermore, instead of being rectangular like the one above it, this patch is trapezoidal; for the stream bank that constitutes its lower edge is not perpendicular to its two sides—running up the slope—which are parallel to each other. The row on the right side has no more than thirteen banana trees instead of twenty-three.
And finally, the lower edge of this patch is not straight, since the little stream is not: a slight bulge narrows the patch toward the middle of its width. The central row, which should have eighteen trees if it were to be a true trapezoid, has, in fact, only sixteen. In the second row, starting from the far left, there would be twenty-two trees because of the alternate arrangement in the case of a rectangular patch. There would also be twenty-two for a patch that was precisely trapezoidal, the reduction being scarcely noticeable at such a short distance from its base.
And, in fact, there are twenty-two trees there. But the third row too has only twenty-two trees, instead of twenty- three which the alternately-arranged rectangle would have. No additional difference is introduced, at this level, by the bulge in the lower edge. The same is true for the fourth row, which includes twenty-one boles, that is, one less than an even row of the imaginary rectangle. The bulge of the bank also begins to take effect starting from the fifth row: this row, as a matter of fact, also possesses only twenty-one trees, whereas it should have twenty- two for a true trapezoid and twenty-three for a rectangle uneven row.
These numbers themselves are theoretical, since certain banana trees have already been cut at ground level, once the stem has matured. There are actually nineteen tufts of leaves and two empty spaces which constitute the fourth row; and in the fifth, twenty tufts and one space— that is, from bottom to top: eight tufts of leaves, an empty space, twelve tufts of leaves. Without bothering with the order in which the actually visible banana trees and the cut banana trees occur, the sixth row gives the following numbers: twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty, nineteen—which represent respectively the rectangle, the true trapezoid, the trapezoid with a curved edge, and the same after subtracting the boles cut for the harvest.
And for the following rows: twenty-three, twenty-one, twenty-one, twenty-one. Twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty, twenty. Twenty-three, twenty- one, twenty, nineteen, etc On the log bridge that crosses the stream at the bottom edge of this patch, there is a man crouching: a native, wearing blue trousers and a colorless undershirt that leaves his shoulders bare.
On the near slope of the valley, a single patch runs uphill from the stream to the garden.
Despite the rather slight declivity the slope appears to have, the banana trees are still easy to count here from the height of the veranda. As a matter of fact, the trees are very young in this zone, which has only recently been replanted. Not only is the regularity of the planting perfect here, but the trunks are no more than a foot and a half high, and the tufts of leaves that terminate them are still quite far apart from each other. Finally, the angle of the rows with the direction of the valley about forty-five degrees also favors their enumeration. An oblique row begins at the log bridge, at the right, and reaches the left corner of the garden.
It includes the thirty-six trees in its length. The alternate arrangement makes it possible to consider these same trees as being aligned in three other directions: first of all, the perpendicular to the first direction mentioned, then two others, also perpendicular to each other, and forming angles of forty-five degrees with the first two. These last two rows are therefore respectively parallel and perpendicular to the direction of the valley—and to the lower edge of the garden.
The garden is, at present, only a square of naked earth, recently spaded, out of which are growing perhaps a dozen thin young orange trees a little shorter than a man, planted at A. The house does not occupy the whole width of the garden. Therefore it is isolated on all sides from the green mass of the banana trees. Across the bare ground, in front of the west gable-end, falls the warped shadow of the house.
The shadow of the roof is linked to the shadow of the veranda by the oblique shadow of the corner column. The balustrade here forms a barely perforated strip, whereas the real distance between the balusters is scarcely smaller than the average thickness of the latter. The balusters are of turned wood, with a median hip and two accessory smaller bulges, one at each end. The paint, which has almost completely disappeared from the top surface of the hand-rail, is also beginning to flake off the bulging portions of the balusters; they present, for the most part, a wide zone of naked wood halfway up the baluster, on the rounded part of the hip, on the veranda side.
Between the gray paint that remains, faded with age, and the wood grayed by the action of humidity, appear little reddish-brown surfaces—the natural color of the wood— where it has been exposed by the recent fall of new flakes of paint. The whole balustrade is to be repainted bright yellow: that is what A. The windows of her bedroom are still closed.
However the blinds which replace the panes of glass are opened as far as possible, thus making the interior of the room bright enough. The man is still motionless, bending over the muddy water on the earth-covered log bridge. He has not moved an inch: crouching, head lowered, forearms resting on his thighs, hands hanging between his knees. In front of him, in the patch along the opposite bank of the little stream, several stems look ripe for harvesting.
Several boles have already been cut in this sector. Their empty places appear with perfect distinctness in the series of geometrical alignments. From the other side of the house can be heard the noise of a truck coming up the road on the near slope of the valley. Having reached the level portion of the road, just above the rocky outcrop that marks the end of the plateau, the truck shifts gears and continues with a less muffled rumble. Then the sound gradually fades as it drives off east, through the scorched brush dotted with motionless trees, toward the next plantation—Franck's.
The bedroom window—the one nearest the hallway— opens outward. The upper part of A.. She says "Hello" in the playful tone of someone who has slept well and awakened in a good mood; or of someone who prefers not to show what she is thinking about—if anything—and always flashes the same smile, on principle; the same smile, which can be interpreted as derision just as well as affection, or the total absence of any feeling whatever. 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.
She goes to the heavy chest against the rear partition. She opens the top drawer to take out a small object and turns back toward the light. On the log bridge the crouching native has disappeared. There is no one visible around the house. No cutting crew is working in this sector, for the moment. She leans forward over some long and painstaking task: mending an extremely fine stocking, polishing her nails, a tiny pencil drawing.
Despite the apparent immobility of her head and shoulders, a series of jolts disturbs the black mass of her hair. From time to time she straightens up and seems to lean back to judge her work from a distance. Her hand rising slowly, she puts into place a short curl that has emerged from this shifting mass.
The hand lingers as it rearranges the waves of hair, the tapering fingers bend and straighten, one after the other, quickly though without abruptness, the movement communicating itself from one to the other continuously, as if they were driven by the same mechanism. Leaning over again, she has now resumed her interrupted task. The lustrous hair gleams with reddish highlights in the hollow of the curls. Slight quivers, quickly absorbed, run through the hair from one shoulder to the other, without its being possible to see the rest of the body stir at all.
On the veranda in front of the office windows, Franck is sitting in his customary place, in one of the chairs of local manufacture. They are arranged as usual: the first two next to each other under the window, the third slightly to one side, on the other side of the low table. She sets a tray with the two bottles and the three big glasses down on the table. Having uncorked the cognac she turns toward Franck and looks at him, while she begins making his drink. But Franck, instead of watching the rising level of the alcohol, fixes his eyes a little too high, on A.
She has arranged her hair into a low knot whose skillful waves seem about to come undone; some hidden pins must be keeping it firmer than it looks. Franck's voice has uttered an exclamation: "Hey there! That's much too much! He holds up his right hand beside his head, the fingers slightly apart. Franck widens his smile, which wrinkles up the corners of his eyes.
He opens his mouth as if he were going to say something. But he doesn't say anything. After several minutes—or several seconds—both are still in the same position. Franck's face as well as his whole body are virtually petrified. He is wearing shorts and a short-sleeved khaki shirt, whose shoulder straps and buttoned pockets have a vaguely military look. Over his rough cotton knee socks he wears tennis-shoes coated with a thick layer of white shoe polish, cracked at the places where the canvas bends with the foot.
She distributes the first two, then, holding the third one in her hand, sits down in the empty chair beside Franck. He has already begun drinking. And without waiting for an answer she calls the boy. There is a silence, during which the boy should appear on the veranda at the corner of the house. But no one comes. Franck looks at A She makes a sudden face toward the balustrade. Franck stares at the tiny bubbles clinging to the sides of his glass, which he is holding in front of his eyes at very close range. One mouthful is enough to tell that this drink is not cold enough. Franck has still not answered one way or the other, though he has taken two already.
The cognac is always kept in the sideboard. To get to the pantry, the easiest way is to cross the house. Once across the threshhold, a sensation of coolness accompanies the half darkness. To the right, the office door is ajar. The light, rubber-soled shoes make no sound on the hallway tiles. The door turns on its hinges without squeaking. The office floor is tiled too. The three windows are closed and their blinds are only half-open, to keep the noonday heat out of the room. Two of the windows overlook the central section of the veranda. The first, to the right, shows through its lowest chink, between the last two slats of wood, the black head of hair—at least the top part of it.
She is looking out over the valley in front of them. She is not speaking. Franck, invisible on her left, is also silent, or else speaking in a very low voice. Although the office—like the bedrooms and the bathroom—opens onto the hallway, the hallway itself ends at the dining room, with no door between. The table is set for three. The three plates are arranged as usual, each in the center of one of the sides of the square table. The fourth side, where there is no place set, is the one next to about six feet of the bare partition where the light paint still shows the traces of the squashed centipede.
In the pantry the boy is already taking the ice cubes out of their trays. A pitcher full of water, set on the floor, has been used to heat the backs of the metal trays. He looks up and smiles broadly. He would scarcely have had time to go take A. To a vague question as to when he received this order, he answers: "Now," which furnishes no satisfactory indication. She might have asked him when she went to get the tray. Only the boy could confirm this. But he sees in the awkwardly put question only a request to hurry. He speaks well enough, but he does not always understand what is wanted of him.
From the pantry door, the dining-room wall seems to have no spot on it. No sound of conversation can be heard from the veranda at the other end of the hallway. To the left, the office door has remained wide open this time. But the slats of the blind are too sharply slanted to permit what is outside to be seen from the doorway. The brown hand disappears. The shiny metal bucket, immediately frosted over, remains where it has been set on the tray beside the two bottles. The knot of A.
It is difficult to follow the convolutions of different strands: several solutions seem possible at some places, and in others, none. Instead of serving the ice, A. Of the garden earth, cut up into vertical slices by the balustrade, and into horizontal strips by the blinds, there remains only a series of little squares representing a very small part of the total surface—perhaps a ninth. She is sitting to Franck's left.
It is always that way: on Franck's right for coffee or cocktails, on his left during the meals in the dining room. She still keeps her back to the windows, but it is now from these windows that the daylight comes. These windows are conventional ones with panes of glass: facing north, they never receive direct sunlight. The windows are closed. No sound penetrates inside when a silhouette passes in front of one of them, walking alongside the house from the kitchen toward the sheds. Cut off below the knee, it was a Negro wearing shorts, undershirt, and an old soft hat, walking with a quick, loose gait, probably barefoot.
His felt hat, shapeless and faded, is unforgettable and should make him immediately recognizable among all the workers on the plantation. He is not, however. The second window is located farther back, in relation to the table; to see it requires a pivoting of the upper part of the body. But no one is outlined against it, either because the man in the hat has already passed it, or because he has just stopped, or has suddenly changed his direction. His disappearance is hardly astonishing, it merely makes his first appearance curious.
The African novel again provides the subject of their conversation. Franck replies by a gesture of the hand: a rise followed by a slower fall that becomes quite vague, while the fingers close over a piece of bread set down beside his plate. At the same time his lower lip is projected and the chin quickly turned toward A. The boy comes in through the open pantry door, holding a large, shallow bowl in both hands. There remains one remedy: to ask after the child. Going in the opposite direction behind the panes, the felt hat passes by again.
The quick, loose gait has not changed. But the opposite orientation of the face conceals the latter altogether. Behind the thick glass, which is perfectly clean, there is only the gravel courtyard, then, rising toward the road and the edge of the plateau, the green mass of the banana trees. The flaws in the glass produce shifting circles in their unvarying foliage.
The light itself has a somewhat greenish cast as it falls on the dining room, the black hair with the improbable convolutions, the cloth on the table, and the bare partition where a dark stain, just opposite A. The details of this stain have to be seen from quite close range, turning toward the pantry door, if its origin is to be distinguished. The image of the squashed centipede then appears not as a whole, but composed of fragments distinct enough to leave no doubt. Several pieces of the body or its appendages are outlined without any blurring, and remain reproduced with the fidelity of an anatomical drawing: one of the antennae, two curved mandibles, the head and the first joint, half of the second, three large legs.
Then come the other parts, less precise: sections of legs and the partial form of a body convulsed into a question mark.
It is at this hour that the lighting in the dining room is the most favorable. From the other side of the square table where the places have not yet been set, one of the French windows, whose panes are darkened by no dust at all, is open on the courtyard which is also reflected in the glass. Between the two window-leaves, as through the half-open right one, is framed the left side of the courtyard where the tarpaulin-covered truck is parked, its hood facing the northern sector of the banana plantation.
Under the tarpaulin is a raw wood case, marked with large black letters painted in reverse through a stencil. In the left window-leaf the reflection is brighter, though deeper in hue. But it is distorted by flaws in the glass, the circular or crescent-shaped spots of verdure, the same colors as the banana trees, occurring in the middle of the courtyard in front of the sheds.
Nicked by one of the moving rings of foliage, the big blue sedan nevertheless remains quite recognizable, as well as A. She is leaning toward the door. If the window has been lowered— which is likely—A. In straightening up she runs the risk of disarranging her hair against the edge of the window, and seeing her hair spread out and fall over the driver still behind the wheel.
The latter is here again for dinner, affable and smiling. He drops into one of the leather chairs without anyone's telling him which, and utters his usual exclamation as to their comfort. In order not to risk spilling the contents in the darkness, A. He murmurs a few words, probably thanking her.
But the words are drowned out by the deafening racket of the crickets that rises on all sides. At table, once the arrangement of the lamps has been shifted so that the guests are in less direct a light, the conversation continues on familiar subjects, with the same phrases. Franck's truck has had engine trouble on the middle of the hill, between the mile marker—where the road leaves the plain—and the first village. It was a police car which passed the truck and then stopped at the plantation to inform Franck. When the latter reached the spot two hours later, he did not find his truck at the place indicated, but much lower down, the driver having tried to start the motor in reverse, at the risk of crashing into a tree if he missed one of the turns.
Expecting any results at all from such a method was ridiculous anyway. The carburetor would have to be completely dismantled all over again. Luckily Franck had brought along a snack lunch, for he didn't get home until three-thirty. He is going down to the port himself at the first opportunity and meet with the sales agents of the chief makes, so that he can find out the exact prices, the various advantages, delivery time, etc. If he had a little more experience, he would know that new machines should not be entrusted to Negro drivers, who wreck them just as fast, if not faster.
If we leave early, we can be back the same night. Franck looks up again. Following the direction of A. On the light-colored paint of the partition opposite A.. It is not moving, for the moment, but the orientation of its body indicates a path which cuts across the panel diagonally: coming from the baseboard on the hallway side and heading toward the corner of the ceiling.
The creature is easy to identify thanks to the development of its legs, especially on the posterior portion. On closer examination the swaying movement of the antennae at the other end can be discerned. Her eyes are wide, staring at the wall. It is not unusual to encounter different kinds of centipedes after dark in this already old wooden house. And this kind is not one of the largest; it is far from being one of the most venomous.
As Part 1 of the novel ends, he makes the fateful decision to head off in the direction of the cliffs, freewheeling his hired bicycle. Still, the impeccable alignment of the boles shows that they have been planted only recently and that no stems have as yet been cut. Break It Down. The back of a fingernail finally smoothes down the last roughness. The paint, which has almost completely disappeared from the top surface of the hand-rail, is also beginning to flake off the bulging portions of the balusters; they present, for the most part, a wide zone of naked wood halfway up the baluster, on the rounded part of the hip, on the veranda side. On the balusters, though, it is the unpainted areas, much smaller and generally located toward the middle of the uprights, which constitute the spots, here incised, where the fingers recognize the vertical grain of the wood. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
Franck, who has said nothing, is looking at A. Then he stands up, noiselessly, holding his napkin in his hand. He wads it into a ball and approaches the wall. Her left hand gradually closes over her knife. The delicate antennae accelerate their alternate swaying. Suddenly the creature hunches its body and begins descending diagonally toward the ground as fast as its long legs can go, while the wadded napkin falls on it, faster still.
The hand with the tapering fingers has clenched around the knife handle; but the features of the face have lost none of their rigidity. Franck lifts the napkin away from the wall and with his foot continues to squash something on the tiles, against the baseboard. About a yard higher, the paint is marked with a dark shape, a tiny arc twisted into a question mark, blurred on one side, in places surrounded by more tenuous signs, from which A 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 handle disappears almost entirely in the hand firmly gripping it. Half of 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 away in 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.
The sound, which gradually varies from one end to the other, is at this point nothing more than a dry, faint crackling, whose last sputters occur once the brush, leaving the longest hair, is already moving up the ascending part of the cycle, describing a swift curve in the air which brings it above the neck, where the hair lies flat on the back of the head and reveals the white streak of a part. To the left of this part, the other half of the black hair hangs loosely to the waist in supple waves.
Still further to the left the face shows only a faint profile. But beyond is the surface of the mirror, which reflects the image of the whole face from the front, the eyes— doubtless unnecessary for brushing—directed straight ahead, as is natural. Thus A. The second window, which looks south like this third one, is nearer the southwest corner of the house; it too is wide open. Through it can be seen the side of the dressing- table, the edge of the mirror, the left profile of the face, the loose hair which hangs over the shoulder, and the left arm which is bent back to reach the right half of the hair.
Since the nape of the neck is bent diagonally to the right, the face is slightly turned toward the window. On the gray- streaked marble table-top are arranged jars and bottles of various sizes and shapes; nearer the front lies a large tortoise-shell comb and another brush, this one of wood with a longer handle, which is lying with its black bristles facing up.
She has interrupted her movements, having finished this side perhaps. Nevertheless she does not change the position of her arms or move the upper part of her body as she turns her face all the way around toward the window at her left to look out at the veranda, the open-work balustrade and the opposite slope of the valley. The foreshortened shadow of the column supporting the corner of the roof falls across the veranda flagstones toward the first window, that of the gable-end; but it is far from reaching it, for the sun is still too high in the sky.
The gable-end of the house is entirely in the shadow of the roof; as for the western part of the veranda running the length of this gable-end, an unbroken sunny strip scarcely a yard wide lies between the shadow of the roof and the shadow of the balustrade. It is in front of this window, inside the bedroom, that the varnished mahogany-and-marble dressing table has been set; there is always a specimen of such pieces in these colonial-style houses.
The back of the mirror is a panel of rougher wood, also reddish, but dark, oval in shape and with a chalk inscription almost entirely erased. To the right, A.. At the end of this western side of the veranda opens the outside door of the pantry; the pantry opens onto the dining room, where it stays cool all afternoon. On the bare wall between the pantry door and the hallway, the stain formed by the remains of the centipede is scarcely visible because of the oblique light.
The table is set for three; three plates occupy three sides of the square table: the sideboard side, the window side, and the side toward the center of the long room. The other half of this room forms a living room on the other side of an imaginary central line between the hall doorway and the door opening onto the courtyard. From the courtyard it is easy to reach the sheds where the native overseer has his office.
But this living room—or the side of the shed through a window—can be seen only from Franck's place at the table: back to the sideboard. At present, this place is empty. Though the discomfort of this location, with the light behind her, seems flagrant, it has been chosen by A.
She eats with an extreme economy of gestures, not turning her head right or left, her eyes squinting slightly, as if she were trying to discover a stain on the bare wall in front of her, where the immaculate paint offers not the slightest object to her gaze, however. After clearing away the hors-d'oeuvres but not bothering to change the unused plate of the absent guest, the boy comes in again through the open pantry door, holding a wide, shallow platter in both hands. Without a word, the boy sets the platter down on the white cloth to her right. It contains a yellowish puree, probably of yams, from which rises a thin trail of steam which suddenly curves, flattens out, and vanishes without leaving a trace, reappearing at once—long, delicate and vertical— high above the table.
In the middle of the table there is already another untouched platter on which, against a background of brown sauce, are arranged three small roasted birds, one next to the other. The boy has withdrawn, silent as ever. Having grasped the appropriate spoon, she helps herself with careful and precise gestures: the smallest of the three birds, then a little of the puree. Then she picks up the platter at her right and sets it down on her left, the large spoon has remained in it. She begins meticulously cutting up the bird on her plate.
Respite the smallness of the object, she takes apart the ribs, as if she were performing an anatomical demonstration, cuts up the body at the joints, detaches the flesh from the skeleton with the point of her knife while holding the pieces down with her fork, without forcing, without ever having to repeat the same gesture, without even seeming to be accomplishing a difficult or unaccustomed task. These birds, it is true, are served frequently.
When she has finished, she raises her head, looking straight ahead of her, and remains motionless again, while the boy takes out the plates covered with the tiny bones, then the two platters, one of which still contains a third roasted bird, the one meant for Franck. The latter's place remains as it was until the end of the meal. He has probably been delayed, as is not infrequently the case, by some incident occurring on his plantation, since he would not have put off this lunch for any possible ailments of his wife or child. Although it is unlikely that the guest should come now, perhaps A But through the dining-room windows, of which at least one is half open, no motor hum or any other noise can be heard at this hour of the day when all work is interrupted and even the animals fall silent in the heat.
The corner window has both leaves open—at least partly. The left leaf, on the other hand, is pushed back toward the wall, but not all the way either—it is scarcely more than perpendicular, in fact, to the window sash. The window therefore shows three panels of equal height which are of adjoining widths: in the center the opening and, on each side, a glass area comprising three panes. In all three are framed fragments of the same landscape: the gravel courtyard and the green mass of the banana trees. The windows are perfectly clean and, in the right-hand leaf, the landscape is only slightly affected by the flaws in the glass, which give a few shifting nuances to the too uniform surfaces.
But in the left leaf, the reflected image, darker although more brilliant, is plainly distorted, circular or crescent-shaped spots of verdure the same color as the banana trees occurring in the middle of the courtyard in front of the sheds. Franck's big blue sedan, which has just appeared here, is also nicked by one of these shifting rings of foliage, as is A. She leans toward the door. If the window has been lowered—which is likely—A. In straightening up she runs the risk of disarranging her hair against the edge of the window, causing it to spread out and fall—all the more readily mussed since it has recently been washed—over the driver still behind the wheel.
But she draws away unscathed from the blue car whose motor, which has been idling, now fills the courtyard with a louder hum, and after a last look behind her, heads alone, with her decisive gait, toward the center door of the house which opens directly into the living room. Opposite this door opens the hallway, with no door between it and the living room—dining room.
Doors occur one after another on each side; the last to the left, that of the office, is not completely closed. The door moves without creaking on its well-oiled hinges; it then returns to its initial position with the same discretion. At the other end of the house, the entrance door, opened with less care, has closed again; then the faint distinct sound of high heels on tiles crosses the living room-dining room and approaches down the length of the hallway. The steps stop in front of the office door, but it is the door opposite, to the bedroom, which is opened, then shut again.
Symmetrical to those of the bedroom, the three windows of the office have their blinds more than half lowered at this hour. Thus the office is plunged into a dimness which makes it difficult to judge distances. Lines are just as distinct, but the succession of planes gives no impression of depth, so that hands instinctively reach out in front of the body to measure the space more precisely. The room is fortunately not very full of furniture: files and shelves against the walls, a few chairs, and then the huge desk which fills the entire area between the two windows facing south, one of which— on the right, nearer the hallway—reveals through the chinks between its wood slats, the silhouette in luminous parallel stripes of the table and chairs on the veranda.
On the corner of the dressing-table stands a little mother- of- pearl inlaid frame with a photograph taken by a sidewalk photographer during the first vacation in Europe, after the African trip. She has turned slightly to smile at the photographer, as if to authorize him to take this candid shot. Her bare arm, at the same moment, has not changed the gesture it was making to set the glass down on the table beside her.
But it was not to put ice in it, for she does not reach for the ice bucket of shiny metal which is immediately frosted over. Motionless, she stares at the valley in front of them. She says nothing. Franck, invisible to her left, also says nothing. Perhaps she had heard some abnormal sound behind her and is about to make some movement without discernible preparation, which would permit her to look toward the blind quite by chance. The window facing east, on the other side of the office, is not merely a window opening, like the corresponding one in the bedroom, but a French door which permits direct access to the veranda without passing through the hallway.
This part of the veranda receives the morning sun, the only kind that need not be avoided by some protection or other. In the almost cool air after daybreak, the song of birds replaces that of the nocturnal crickets, and resembles it, although less regular and sometimes embellished with slightly more musical sounds.
As for the birds themselves, they were no more in evidence than the crickets were, remaining in hiding under the clusters of wide green leaves on all sides of the house.
In the zone of naked earth which separates the house from the trees, where at regular intervals the young orange trees are planted—thin stems with occasional dark-colored foliage—the ground sparkles with innumerable dew-covered webs spun by tiny spiders between the clods of spaded earth. To the right, this part of the veranda adjoins the end of the living room. But it is always out-of-doors, in front of the southern facade—with a view over the entire valley—that the morning meal is served.
On the low table, near the single chair brought here by the boy, the coffee pot and the cup are already arranged. In the hollow of the valley, on the log bridge that crosses the little stream, there is a man crouching, facing the opposite hillside. He is a native, wearing Hue trousers and a colorless undershirt that leaves his shoulders bare. He is leaning toward the liquid surface as if he were trying to see something in the muddy water.
In front of him, on the opposite bank, stretches a trapezoid-shaped patch, the side along the bank curved, all of whose banana trees have been harvested more or less recently. It is easy to count their stumps, the cut trunks leaving a short stub with a disc-shaped scar, white or yellowish depending upon its freshness. Counting by rows, there are: from left to right twenty-three, twenty-two, twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty- one, twenty, twenty-one, twenty, twenty, etc Beside each white disc, but in various directions, has grown the replacing sprout.
Depending on the precocity of the first stem, this new plant is now between a foot and a half and a yard in height. She begins serving: the cognac in the three glasses, then the soda, and finally three transparent ice cubes, each of which imprisons a bundle of silver needles in its heart. My goodness. Then, after a pause, "In fact, it'll be fun. I'd prefer that too," A.. They sip their drinks. Then they change the subject. Now both of them have finished the book they have been reading for some time; their remarks can therefore refer to the book as a whole: that is, both to the outcome and to the earlier episodes subjects of past conversations to which this outcome gives a new significance, or to which it adds a complementary meaning.
They have never made the slightest judgment as to the novel's value, speaking instead of the scenes, events, and characters as if they were real: a place they might remember located in Africa, moreover , people they might have known, or whose adventures someone might have told them.