Updated on May 19, 2015
3. ‘Jealousy’ by Alain Robbe-Grillet
This book is a strange one. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The writing style is very particular and quite distant, as the reader is first given a geometrical description of the house and plantation where all of the book’s action plays out. In this sense it’s quite a claustrophobic novel – there’s only one setting, all the others are imagined – and it’s made even more so by the cyclical lives of the characters.
We see two main characters throughout the story: A… and Franck. Franck comes often to A…’s house for dinner, leaving his sickly wife and child at home. A… and Franck’s conversations and actions are similar every time, with only small differences that give away what’s really going on. As the story progresses, Franck’s relationship with A… (also married) becomes more clearly adulterous. The two sit close to each other on the porch, share a common love of literature and take day trips to town, which end up extending into overnight stays when their jeep ‘breaks down’.
But there is a third character here: the narrator, A…’s husband. He is the pair of eyes through which we see the entire story but his presence is only ever implied, because the first person ‘I’ voice is entirely missing. We see four chairs set out on the porch but only one remains empty, and the point of view moves about as if attached to a person, with all the associated limitations on what that person can see and hear when they’re not in the same room as the other characters. The closest we get to an admission of self is the use of passive tense: instead of, “I ask,” the narrative reads, “It is enough to ask,” and A… responds as if she has really been asked. Which she has, by the curiously invisible narrator.
Of course, all of this mystery creates quite an eerie atmosphere. The narrative perspective creeps around the house, watching A… when she doesn’t know she’s being watched, and noticing all the little things that give away her infidelity. This strange narrator doesn’t act on his jealousy but the tension palpably builds throughout, and the mathematical descriptions of space become increasingly more detailed. It’s as if the narrator, the jealous husband, is hiding behind his obsessive thoughts about numbers and shapes to avoid dealing with what’s happening right under his nose. By the time the story ends, however, it’s clear that this is an untenable position and the pot is boiling over.
Jealousy was recommended to me by GW Dahlquist when I interviewed him last year. It’s a short but not necessarily a quick read – but it’s absolutely worth it.
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?