Nathalie Sarraute, Author, Barbara Wright, Translator George Braziller $22.5 (165p) ISBN 978-0-8076-1423-5
Recently inducted into the French literary canon (this year Gallimard issued her complete works as an Edition Pleiade), the 96-year-old Sarraute proves once again her faculty for teasing beauty and meaning from specific moments. In a series of disjunctive sketches, hailed by the French press as her highest accomplishment to date, she meditates on words: specifically, on how the presence of a word or phrase--whether spoken or successfully avoided--can devastate a conversation or make a character betray himself. In one chapter, a man with the aristocratic article ""de"" before his name is introduced at a tea party and throws the other guests into paroxysms of snobbery (expressed by some, concealed smugly by others). In another, a group of mourners are so determined not to pronounce the word ""tragedy"" that they (hilariously) end up chatting about the latest theatrical comedy. In the process, Sarraute manages to say something new about traditional French obssessions: envy, tact, indiscretion, self-consciousness, conversational aggression and the itch to disillusion the naive. Brilliant and innovative, this novel is not the place to look for plot, developed characters or straightforward dialogue (even the French half-heartedly criticized the book for being too difficult). Yet Sarraute's eye for the perfect metaphor, and ear for the rhythms of thought, are reason enough to read this stunning work. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/30/1997
Release date: 07/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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