Saturday, 11 April 2009

15. Alain Robbe-Grillet - 'La Plage' (1962)

'But at regular intervals, a sudden wave, always the same, originating a few yards away from the shore, suddenly rises and then immediately breaks, always in the same line.'

(French Short Stories: Nouvelles Francaises, Penguin Parallel Texts, 1966)

Beginning the third week - all stories drawn from my parents' bookcase - is a story from one of the founders of the nouveau roman - the new novel. Robbe-Grillet had already scripted Last Year in Marienbad (dir. Alain Resnais, 1961), a key French film I shamefully haven't yet seen.

Delicate, measured, Robbe-Grillet's story is deceptive in how inconsequential it may seem. Yes, barely anything happens, but the poetry is in the punctuations and symmetries of the beach scene he depicts. An olympian sense of calm and serenity pervades the story, with the initial scene presented of three children walking along the beach remaining in place at the end: 'Trois enfants marchent le long d'une greve'. (p.12) / 'Les enfants, au contraire, qui marchent plus pres de la falaise, cote a cote, se tenant par le main, laissent derriere eux de profondes empreintes, dont la triple ligne s'allonge parallelement aux bords, a travers la tres longue greve.' (p.22)

The writing here disavows any standard 'short-story' structures, to a greater or lesser degree detectable in all of the stories surveyed so far in ASSAD. A structure can be discerned but it is more one akin to nature, the rippling inconsistencies of life itself - with no authorial point-of-view trying to make sense of it. As the introduction makes clear, however, the tactic of metaphor is implied: 'The sun illuminates the yellow sand with a violent, vertical light.' (p.13)

Some Beckettian influence might be discerned, in the sustained simplicity of setting and the paring down of language; the introduction rightly emphasises 'The cool precision and intensive repetition of accumulative detail - as effective here as in the novel Le Voyeur which precedes it in time'. (p.9)

'The Beach' is very brief, avoiding ostentation or putting any point across; it merely, gently puts humanity in its place as part of an unknowably still and mysterious landscape. So difficult to rate, this; I thoroughly appreciate the effect that Robbe-Grillet is after, but I could not quite call it a favourite - perhaps because, in its utterly self-effacing way, it is an anti-short story. ;-)



  1. There is surely a sense of entrapment here - the cliff appears impregnable, the sea to their right is implacable in the repetition of its waves; and to what does the bell (indistinctly heard) summon them? This hardly seems like a light-hearted childhood scene...

  2. This does not seem like a scene of unalloyed childhood bliss. The children seem to be marshalled by the landscape, on the one side fenced in by the cliff which appears to have no openings, on the other by the sea with its inexorably repeated pattern of breaking waves - or rather, it would seem, a single wave endlessly repeating itself. To what does the bell summon them? They have difficulty in hearing it. Are they walking towards the summons or away from it?