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Snapshots (European Classics) Paperback – September 1, 1995
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
From the Back Cover
Alain Robbe-Grillet has long been regarded as the chief spokesman for the controversial nouveau roman. This collection of brilliant short pieces introduces the reader to those techniques employed by Robbe-Grillet in his longer works. These intriguing, gemlike stories represent Robbe-Grillet's most accessible fiction.
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In "Snapshots," though, the author generally comes up empty. I just don't know what to think of these stories, which present the reader with a simple sequence of events, elaborately detailed, and then stop. One can pick them apart and find more to them than might be immediately clear, but there isn't much here worth dwelling on. "The Secret Room" is probably the best of an undistinguished lot.
Perhaps the author needed to write these little exercises before he could go on to bigger and better things. I'd advise the interested reader to skip the stories and go straight to the novels, in which Robbe-Grillet's peculiar talent displays itself more fully.
Honing his craft in post-war France, Alain Robbe-Grillet sought to strip from his work the hallmarks of French literature, indeed, nearly all of the literary conventions thought to add color and depth and psychological insight to prose. Instead, Robbe-Grillet endeavored to develop new techniques-largely based in visual observation-that would present scenes and characters and situations stripped of the customary subjectivity seemingly inherent in authorship, and the linear plotlines typically associated with fiction.
The short pieces collected here, written between 1954 and 1962, demonstrate Robbe-Grillet's urge to experiment with a reductive technique. At the same time, the author adumbrates many of the themes that characterize his later and more fully developed works like JEALOUSY, THE VOYEUR, IN THE LABYRINTH--classics of the "nouveau roman."
In this translation by Bruce Morrissette, the prose is stripped down to a level that makes Hemingway seem rococo by comparison.
The pieces-one hesitates to call them stories-present scenes coldly and objectively, yet they also reveal Robbe-Grillet's erotic obsessions and his skillfully concealed manipulation of the reader's point-of-view. Despite the author's professed desire to "trust" the reader, he often cunningly and covertly rigs the game so that the reader must engage in mental twists and turns to visualize such subtle complexities as a mirror reflecting the contents of a room ("The Dressmaker's Dummy"), or a landscape mirrored on the surface of a pool of rainwater ("The Wrong Direction").
In the pieces, "Scene," "The Way Back" and "The Shore," the author opens up a bit to add snatches of dialogue, but the sketches in SNAPSHOTS largely describe a silent world. Even in the three pieces describing the movements of a crowd contained in the section "In the Corridors of the Metro" seem like a silent film played back at half speed. These works seem an attempt to slow down the world, and to blur the distinctions between "background" and "foreground," or "form" and "content." In "A Corridor," for instance, the author focuses as much attention on the motions of the people streaming through a hallway as he does on the identical posters advertising soda on the very walls that they pass through.
The final piece in the collection, "The Secret Room," is an uncanny homage to the 19th Century decadent French painter, Gustave Moreau. Applying his objectivist techniques in the service of Symbolist sado-eroticism, Robbe-Grillet effectively conveys the very liquid quality of Moreau's painting technique, as well as the almost suffocating layering of details that characterize the painter's works. The author skillfully presents this erotic scene in a way that suggests a painting in motion, rather than a conventional narrative of the scene.
Richly ambiguous, the short prose pieces in SNAPSHOTS admirably demonstrate Robbe-Grillet's development of the formal techniques and thematic fixations that typify his work. Though created almost a half-century ago, these pieces seem as immediate and audacious as the day they were written.