Claude Simon, , trans. from the French by Jordan Stump. . Northwestern Univ., $29.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1723-5

To those old enough to remember the "new novel" movement that came out of France in the '60s and early '70s, the name Claude Simon—like that of Alain Robbe-Grillet—will be familiar. Simon won the Nobel in 1985, some years after the nouveau roman's coldly cinematic—yet engagingly torturous—life had ended, and 25 years after the publication of Simon's masterwork, The Flanders Road. Simon has always been a "writer's writer," a man of letters in the literal as well as the idiomatic sense, questioning language's utility as he employs it to breathtaking effect. His language is incandescent; his sentiment often ice-cold. Simon's latest autobiographical epic is inscrutable, self-involved, cerebral; but how to criticize a writer for the very qualities that made him famous? The emphasis, as always, is on Simon's experiences in the Spanish Civil War. But here, more than ever, form is a free-for-all. Punctuation, linearity, paragraph breaks: all out the window. Even Joyce's Ulysses had one paragraph follow—rather than shove aside, or collide with—another. It's as if the disjunctions of e.e. cummings had been visited upon the tender madeleines of Proust with Nabokov's self-indulgence, to baffling effect. Some memorable moments: the comparison of Picasso to a rabbit ("the flattened nose"); the expression of civility in wartime ("General, I must inform you that I've lost my arm"). The average reader will find this novel tedious and insufferable; cConnoisseurs of experimentation and lovers of puzzles and epics will find it endlessly satisfying. Readers who fall somewhere in the middle will want it on their shelf, but whether they will ever want to read it is another matter. (Nov.)