Newspaper article International New York Times

Michel Butor, Experimental French Novelist, Is Dead at 89

Newspaper article International New York Times

Michel Butor, Experimental French Novelist, Is Dead at 89

Article excerpt

His experiments with narrative and structure in the late 1950s and early '60s put him at the forefront of the literary trend known as le nouveau roman.

Michel Butor, a French novelist whose experiments with narrative and structure in the late 1950s and early '60s put him at the forefront of the literary trend known as le nouveau roman ("the new novel"), died on Aug. 24 in Contamine-sur-Arve, in the Rhone-Alpes region of southeastern France. He was 89.

Family members reported his death to the newspaper Le Monde, which announced it.

Mr. Butor objected to being called a part of the nouveau roman movement, although he shared a publisher, Les Editions de Minuit, with Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute and Claude Simon, leading figures in the school. His novels shared certain characteristics with theirs -- a cameralike detachment, an indifference to psychology, a preoccupation with physical details and the instability of human perception -- but he took a more philosophical and political approach.

"One of the most important ways of affecting reality is to reach it through language," he told Le Monde in July.

His novel "La Modification" (1957), published in English as "A Change of Heart" in 1959, told the story of a married man traveling from Paris to Rome to face his mistress and force a resolution to their affair, only to abandon the idea. Written, disorientingly, in the second person, with the reader addressed as "you," it won the prestigious Prix Renaudot, ratifying Mr. Butor's reputation as a writer to watch.

"You, sir, who wanted literature, here you have it," the critic Dominique Aury wrote in The New York Times in 1958. "Here is a new form, a strange romantic tone, an accent you have never heard before."

After "Degrees" (1960), which used three narrators to give varying accounts of a lecture on Christopher Columbus delivered at a high school, Mr. Butor broke with the novel form, pursuing literature in myriad other guises: essays, poetry, artists' books, texts set to music, and free-form meditations on writers, places and ideas, epitomized by "Matiere de Reves" ("Dream Stuff"), published in five volumes between 1975 and 1985.

In a statement, President Francois Hollande of France called Mr. Butor "a great literary explorer" who was "always engaged in a dialogue with the other arts, always in the same spirit of freedom and discovery."

Michel Marie Francois Butor was born on Sept. 14, 1926, in Mons- en-Baroeul, near Lille, in northern France, to Emile Butor, a railroad inspector, and the former Anne Brajeux. …

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