Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Reader-Investigators in the Post-Nouveau Roman: Lahougue, Peeters, and Perec

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Reader-Investigators in the Post-Nouveau Roman: Lahougue, Peeters, and Perec

Article excerpt

It is not impossible to imagine ... a novel whose fiction would be

exciting enough so that the reader intensely felt the desire to know

its last word which precisely, at the last minute, would be denied

to him, the text pointing to itself and towards a rereading. The

book would be thus, a second time, given to the reader who could

then while rereading it, discover everything in it which in his first

mad fever he had been unable to find.

Benoit Peeters, "Agatha Christie: Une ecriture de la

lecture" (177).

I. Toward a post-Nouveau Roman detective novel

A trend that I will characterize as the post-Nouveau Roman detective novel

may be distinguished in the current French literary scene.(1) A new narrative

hybrid form is being developed which partakes of both the mystery story and

the early Nouveau Roman.(2) Novels of the first phase of the Nouveau Roman,

particularly Robbe-Grillet's Les Gommes, Butor's L'Emploi du temps and Ollier's

La Mise en scene, as well as a Nouveau Nouveau Roman like Ricardou's

Les Lieux-dits, used detective-story structures. Although they played with

some traits of mystery fiction, they did not fully belong to the detective

genre. They were parodies, metafictions, or anti-detective novels, but not

proper detective stories. Likewise, thirty years later, a significant number of

novels by authors as different as Modiano, Echenoz, Belleto, or Roubaud, draw

from the detective model without entirely following the rules of the game.(3) As

opposed to current representatives of the genre,(4) the Nouveau Roman policier

and the post-Nouveau roman policier recycle generic characteristics by means

of innovative textual strategies.(5) Perec calls his << 53 jours >> a

"literary thriller" (Bellos 710) and, to use an expression from the text, La

Doublure de Magrite can be defined as a "feuilleton avant-gardiste" (186).

It is well known that the Nouveau Roman calls into question most of our

expectations of what a narrative should be--in terms of plot, psychology,

characters, logical and chronological series of sequences. However, its

"anti-representational" or "auto-representational" effects, as Ricardou analyzed

them at the time, are now fairly familiar to the postmodern reader : what

used to be `writable' (scriptible) has since become a little more lisible.(6)

Today, whether such narrative strategies are called "self-reflexive,"

"metatextual," "metafictional" or, preferably, "metarepresentational,"(7)

post-Nouveau Roman

detective novels use Nouveau Roman textual devices while returning to

what might appear to be a more conventional way of story telling.(8) They offer

the pleasures of reading (it is a clear return to the romanesque) and do not

overtly subvert our expectations. Beneath their innocent surface, however, what

supports these puzzles may be a very sophisticated network of infratextual as

well as intertextual correspondences. Briefly, in these novels

metarepresentational strategies are no longer deliberately

anti-representational. Contemporary with the Nouveau Roman but distinct from

it, Georges Perec's versatile work--shifting constantly from playful Oulipian

mechanical exercises (along with Italo Calvino and Jacques Roubaud among

others) to autobiographical and extraordinarily imaginative, often humorous,

novels--has certainly anticipated this significant evolution, one that blends

intricate specific textual constraints with a more representational narrative


Although I would not agree with Tani that any interesting contemporary

fiction takes more or less advantage of detective-novel techniques (149, 151),

I don't deny that there may be a fundamental mystery or suspense in any

nondetective novel per se ("une forme fondamentale": see Boyer 74). …

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