About 5,000 Reasons to Read Jean-Philippe Toussaint

That’s roughly what you’ll find in Tom McCarthy’s excellent LRB essay on the author. Placing Toussaint into the context of post-nouveaux roman authors (though McCarthy notes that Toussaint claims to find Robbe-Grillet unreadable), he offers excellent readings of most of Toussaint’s works, including untranslated ones:

Born in 1957, Toussaint was out of the blocks quickly: by the age of 35 he’d published four novels. It’s the last of these, the so far untranslated La Réticence, which most blatantly betrays his generation’s haunting by its predecessor. With its setting in an off-season fishing village, its quasi-repeating narrative loops that see an eminently unreliable narrator trace and retrace circuits through the corridors of a hotel or to and from the house of an absent friend-cum-rival whom he may or may not have murdered, its obsessive attention to surfaces and objects, or the geometric pulsing of a lighthouse’s ‘cône fulgurant de clarté’ through the black night, over and over – in all these aspects, the book reads like an apprentice’s studied emulation of Robbe-Grillet’s masterpiece The Voyeur. The paradox is that, when La Réticence came out in 1991, Toussaint had already published three well-received, quite differently styled books: The Bathroom, Monsieur and Camera. It’s almost as though, having successfully completed the first stretch of his career, he decided to go back and write a hommage or pastiche, a finger exercise to reassure himself that he could ‘do’, straight-up, a genre that he’d been transforming from the get-go.

And when you’re done with that, read TQC’s interview with Toussaint, as well as reviews of Running Away and Monsieur.


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Nice one! But I think it was Houellebecq who made that comment about Robbe-Grillet being unreadable…

Jesus, you’re appealing to both the obsessive idiotsavantish listmaker in me as well as the Toussaint sucker, and now my night’s for shite while I actually sit down and try to compile a list of 5,000. Thanks a lot.

Ive never read Toussaint, but Im a huge Tom McCarthy fan. With his praise of Toussaint’s novels Im much more apt to seek them out.

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