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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

Last Year at Marienbad

Marienbad

The case of Last Year at Marienbad is interesting for any reader of Bioy’s The Invention of Morel; it is also worthwhile for anyone interested in the relationship between movies and books.

Alain Robbe-Grillet declared that his movie was inspired by Bioy’s novel, but it isn’t simply an adaption of Bioy’s work into a film. Upon viewing the film, there is clearly a lot of thematic, and even plot-based, overlap between the two, but each is also clearly independent from the other.

In this way, I think Robbe-Grillet made a movie "based on a novel" in the sense that Viktor Shklovsky would have wanted to see it happen. In his long essay/short book Literature and Cinematography, Shklovsky decries the many book-to-film adaptations already available in the 1920s as being simply the plot of the book rendered on the screen.

What Shklovsky would have preferred to see were movies that explored the cinema’s unique capabilities for telling a story; what he got was Dickens acted out and filmed, more or less faithfully following the text.

Last Year at Marienbad is a story that I think could only be told cinematically. In Robbe-Grillet’s juxtaposition of certain scenes and images (jumping back and forth to suggest relationships, without ever making it precisely clear what he is jumping between); in his voiceovers that seem to narrate events being depicted on-screen even as we wonder what is the exactly relationship between each, and who is talking to whom; in these devices and others, I think Robbe-Grillet has made something that could not precisely, or even grossly, be recreated in another medium.

This much we know: in both Bioy and Robbe-Grillet there is a man who dearly wants to communicate with a woman; in both he is doomed to fail, but, perhaps through his failures achieve a kind of communication that one might say is the best any of us could hope for when trying to communicate with another person. The circumstances of the book and film, however, are vastly different.

So too are their styles. Although Bioy’s novel is surreal and satisfyingly innovative, he tells us a more or less straightforward story through the frame of a journal. Robbe-Grillet gives us an agglomeration of images that are fundamentally impenetrable as a narrative; we can make guesses as to the story that might be told from what we see on the screen, but there is no way any viewer can claim to have found the definitive narrative in the movie.

In a strange sort of way, the two deepen the experience of each without closing off any avenues. In my experience, there are points of intersection between the book and the movie, images, devices, dialog that could conceivable work well in both. I found these intersections to be like aids that encouraged me to consider both the book and the movie in new ways. But never did I feel like one of these clues had closed off a reading that I had previously entertained.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Sebald at Marienbad I have been in the midst of a long-overdue reading of Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, and now, about 2/3 of the way through, I am delighted...
  2. Alain Robbe Grillet Ruined Your Fiction I don’t quite agree with this post-mortem on Alain Robbe-Grillet. The "new novel" or "nouveau roman," as Robbe-Grillet defined and explained it in his famous...
  3. New Year's Resolution As New Year’s Resolutions go, this is a pretty good one. So, if you happen to be in the market for a resolution this New...
  4. Herzog v. Morris The Believer: WERNER HERZOG: Walking out of one of your films, I always had the feeling—the sense that I’ve seen a movie, that I’ve seen...
  5. Author Event: 4/12: David Thompson and Philip Lopate: American Movie Critics When it comes to film critics, David Thomson is about as big as they come. The author of the Biographical Dictionary of Film, as...

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6 comments to Last Year at Marienbad

  • Bill

    You seem to be under the impression that Alain Robbe-Grillet directed this film. He only wrote the screenplay; direction was by Alain Resnais.

  • One of my all-time favorite films–saw it two more times during its recent theatrical run here in NYC.
    But it was directed by Alain Resnais, not Robbe-Grillet!

  • I can’t find a way to search the blog, so.. have you read Robbe-Grillet at all? I’d be curious how you see his novels in relation to Marienbad and Morel. Say “Maison de Rendez-vous” or “Jalousie.”
    I think most of R-G’s novels resist any “definitive” narrative. There is so much repetition and variation it is impossible to clearly say.

  • Bill,
    Yes, I’m aware. Thanks.
    Derik,
    I have a copy of Jealousy. I hope to read it soon.

  • JPS

    As a long-time fan of Robbe-Grillet, I would recommend, and in this order, The Erasers (a metaphysical crime thriller), The Voyeur, Jealousy, and In the Labyrinth.
    The first will teach you how to read the others.

  • anon

    Does anyone know other novels/fiction in which Marienbad features? I know it is a setting in some of W.G. Sebald’s work (Austerlitz), and I think also of some of Nabokov’s.

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