Academic journal article French Forum

Christine Montalbetti's Engaging Narrations

Academic journal article French Forum

Christine Montalbetti's Engaging Narrations

Article excerpt

  BOVARYSME: Affection dont est atteinte l'heroine du roman de Flaubert,
  Emma Bovary, et qui consiste a construire sa vision du monde a partir
  de ses lectures de romans. L'invalidite des univers romanesques a
  servir de modeles au monde reel entraine une serie de desillusions.
  Par extension, le terme designe une pathlologie de lecture.

  Cf. Don Quichottisme. (1)

Like much of the most intriguing fiction produced in France in recent years, Christine Montalbetti's works defy easy description. Author of four novels and a collection of short stories, all published at the Editions POL, (2) Montalbetti writes books that put a keen consciousness of literary possibility on display, and that test a variety of narrative tactics from different angles of approach. One would be tempted to call her work avant-gardist, if that term were not so embattled these days, and apparently limping toward its dotage. Her writing has an experimental quality to it, yet the term "experimentalist fiction," which is often used to denote works produced in a radically formalist perspective, does not quite fit, either. Critics often invoke the notion of "serious" or "elite" literature in an effort to describe the kind of work that appeals to a learned readership; but those words are weasely ones, I think, and they beg far too many questions. John O'Brien has used the term "subversive" to characterize the kind of fiction that appeals to him as an editor ("Interview"), and Montalbetti's works certainly do play out a dynamic of suave subversion with regard to literary tradition. For my part, I prefer to think of Montalbetti's writing as critical fiction, insofar as, whatever else she may be up to in a given text, the gaze that she casts upon fiction itself is critical in nature, one which insistently calls into question fundamental assumptions about literature and its uses. Moreover, through a finely-wrought and closely articulative narrative strategy, Montalbetti encourages her readers to approach her fictions in just the same manner, reading perhaps less for story than for discourse as we reflect upon what narrative can become, today. I am convinced that it is in just this sort of text that contemporary French fiction finds its deepest resources, and where it seeks to renew itself.

The key technique in that critical dynamic is the intrusive narration which colors each of Christine Montalbetti's novels and short stories. Allow me to be clear about what I mean (and to point out in passing that my own narration will itself be relatively intrusive). Gerald Prince defines the intrusive narrator succinctly as "A (distancing, engaging, ironic or earnest) narrator commenting in his or her own voice on the situations and events presented, their presentation, or its context; a narrator relying on and characterized by commentarial excursuses or intrusions" (Dictionary 46-47). Clearly enough, this is a matter of degree rather than one of absolute kind. Gerard Genette argues that any utterance bears some trace of the speaking subject, however minimal, and thus any narrative act testifies to the presence of a narrator (225). Elsewhere in Figures III he remarks, "Il peut sembler etrange, a premiere vue, d'attribuer a quelque narrateur que ce soit un autre role que la narration proprement dite, c'est-a-dire le fait de raconter l'histoire, mais nous savons bien en fait que le discours du narrateur, romanesque ou autre, peut assumer d'autres fonctions" (261). It is precisely those other functions that interest me in Montalbetti's case, for the narrators that she puts on stage in her fictions are unrepentant causeurs, (3) extremely loquacious figures who condition our reception of the text in crucial ways. Even Wayne Booth, who normally takes a dim, proscriptive view of metadiscursive techniques, is forced to admit that intrusive narration can have important uses: "Though garrulity in narrators is as tedious as garrulity in acquaintances, though commenting narrators are, in fact, particularly tempted to be pompous and redundant, at their best they can yield a breadth of experience unlike that provided by any other artistic device" (199). …

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