Published: April 2008
Un Roman Sentimental
is rooted in the traditions of classical European pornography. But the author’s handling of emotions differs from erotica. Alain Robbe-Grillet, the “patriarch” of the so-called nouveau roman and a member of the Academy of France, has since 2004 created a gallery of extreme perversions and fantasies which not only do not lend themselves to titillation but will probably dissuade even the most perverted eroticism.
The plot is typical of pornographic tradition: a father initiates his fourteen-year-old daughter into sexual pleasure by, for example, buying her a young hooker instead of a doll. Gradually, they explore lust. Using this story as a pretext, Grillet describes 239 scenes of extreme sexual perversion to the point that the reader immediately understands that the reader realizes cannot be linked to human proclivities but rather to a fictitious species (a human hybrid or sub-species) that veers from perversion to perversion.
In Un Roman Sentimental
, reality, as we know it, does not exist. There are just the sick fantasies of an unfeeling and unscrupulous species that devours its own flesh—after having first whipped, wounded, bloodied, hurt, tried, and in the end, negated, it.
The writer emphasizes that “this fairy tale for adults has no place in a library of erotica”. Who dares argue the opposite? Whoever admits as much would immediately become suspect as a serial killer.
Un Roman Sentimental
is a gritty book and a complete reversal of pornography as a genre. It is the ultimate splatter book, a fantasy that mocks it, an experimental lab of self-destruction of the genre and the deconstruction of the charm of any Hannibal Lecter.
It is Robbe-Grillet’s last book.
The Reading Guide
includes a critical reading of the book by publisher Aris Maragkopoulos,
extracts from obituaries published after Robbe-Grillet’s death on February 18, 2008 and an evaluation of the ensemble of his work and its relation with Existentialism in the french magazine analyses
(in french) .
extract from The Guardian
…Gigi, also known as Djinn, a young girl in her early teens, is being groomed by her father to become a woman much like her own mother, Violetta, whose education, contamination and death by devices and persons unknown occurred some 10 years before the novel begins. The fact that Gigi is underage and sleeps naked in her own father's bed is only the transgressive prelude to a series of stories within stories within stories in which the fate of similar young girls is examined in the most minute detail, often culminating in terrible orgies of desecration, violation and ecstatic torture to the point of death. Every female character in the book is well under the age of consent, and are all complicit in their fate to a troubling extent.
There is little doubt that Robbe-Grillet is a major writer and the precise, almost analytical prose that unfolds over the 239 short chapters is classically elegant even as the action moves from disturbing to perverse and well beyond. The book is intended to shock but also to arouse in the most unhealthy of ways, as an hypnotic waltz of domination and submission forces the reader to face his or her own morality or even sanity. Excessive it no doubt is, but it also engenders a worrisome form of fascination for the evil inside us, the temptations of sex for its own sake.
Since Sade, many French writers have continued to mine this lonely and disturbing area: Apollinaire, Louis Aragon, André Pieyre de Mandiargues ... Robbe-Grillet, now 85, is not, as some critics have suggested, just another dirty old man, but another trailblazer on this perilous and very French road. And what could well be his final book should be read with the utmost care. Provocation, titillation or an intellectual divertissement? I remain uncertain. But one thing's for sure: I cannot imagine any English or American writer daring to take such an unholy risk.
From a review in The Guardian (by Maxim Jakubowski, see the whole text here)