One of France’s most prominent avant-garde writers
Alain Robbe-Grillet, a “new novelist” and filmmaker who rejected conventional storytelling and was one of France’s most important avant-garde writers, died Monday, hospital officials said. He was 85.
Robbe-Grillet was admitted to Caen University Hospital in western France over the weekend for cardiac problems, officials said.
He was the most prominent of France’s “new novelists,” a group that emerged in the mid-1950s and whose experimental works tossed aside traditional literary conventions like plot and character development, narrative and chronology, chapters and punctuation. Others included Claude Simon, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute.
“Art evolves,” Robbe-Grillet wrote in “For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction.” “But the novel, unlike music or the visual arts or cinema, has evolved very little since 19th-century realism.”
Robbe-Grillet’s best-known works of fiction include “Les Gommes” (“The Erasers”), a 1953 novel about a detective investigating an apparent murder who ends up killing the victim, and “Le Voyeur,” about the world seen through the eyes of a sadistic killer.
In 1963, he wrote “Pour un Nouveau Roman” (“For a New Novel”), a highly touted critical essay laying the theoretical foundations of the “new novel.” The work became the French avant-garde’s bible and catapulted Robbe-Grillet to star status among Parisian Left Bank intellectuals.
Robbe-Grillet also wrote the screenplays for such films as “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), directed by Alain Resnais, and directed “L'Immortelle” (“The Immortal”) (1963), “Trans-Europ-Express” (1966) and “Eden and After” (1970).
But Robbe-Grillet never allowed his books to be turned into movies.
“For me, literature is very important as literature,” he said in an interview with the New York Times some years ago. “Most films that have been made of great books are not great films.”
Robbe-Grillet was inducted into France’s Legion of Honor and was one of the 40 so-called immortals of the prestigious Academie Francaise, the anointed protector of the French language.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office described Robbe-Grillet as “equally at ease in the expression of his most intimate fantasies as in the lucid and dispassionate analysis of concepts.”
“The Academie Francaise today loses one of its most illustrious members, and without a doubt its most rebellious,” his office said in a statement.
Robbe-Grillet was born in the western town of Brest, the son of an engineer. He graduated from the prestigious Lycee Saint-Louis in Paris and received a degree in agricultural engineering from the National Agronomy Institute. As an agronomist for the French Institute of Colonial Agriculture, he traveled extensively, particularly to Morocco, Martinique and French Guinea.
His survivors and funeral plans were not immediately available.