Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Article excerpt

Repetition, by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated from the French by Richard Howard (Grove; $23). The grand old man of the nouveau roman has published his first novel in two decades, and, faithful to its title, it is not at all new but, rather, a variation on old themes and obsessions. In fact, "Repetition" is a sort of deliberate distortion--or alteration, or rewriting, or retelling--of Robbe-Grillet's earlier books, in particular the first, "The Erasers" (1953). The plot, such as it is, concerns a French secret agent who, in 1949, is sent to Berlin, where he witnesses a murder. This leads him to search out his own past. The reader, meanwhile, is led to distrust every narrator who pops up. Robbe-Grillet's conviction that the true writer has nothing to say, only the way he says it, remains undimmed, but seldom has the nouveau roman seemed so ancien.

Any Human Heart, by William Boyd (Knopf; $24.95). Couched as the diary of one Logan Mountstuart--writer, seducer, spy, and all-around charlatan--Boyd's novel attempts a panorama of twentieth-century history with its hero constantly at the edge of the frame. Mountstuart dines with Bloomsburyites, meets Joyce in Paris, spends the Spanish Civil War hobnobbing with Hemingway and the Second World War trailing the Duke of Windsor for British Intelligence. Later, he runs an art gallery in New York, and gets mixed up in the Nigerian civil war and with the Baader-Meinhof gang. Such an antic plot should not succeed, and yet disbelief remains suspended, thanks to Boyd's skill in producing a novel that successfully mimics a diary in all its human pettiness. He allows Mountstuart's voice to age like port: the precocious schoolboy blithely speculates that the "announcement of a future fact has a tenuous hold on the present moment," while the adult reflects, "It's always hard trying to imagine the loss of something you never had. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.