New York Review of Books 2/2 (5 March 1964): 5-6.
A review of Nathalie Sarraute, The Golden Fruits. Translated by Maria Jolas.
When Nathalie Sarraute published her first novel, Portrait of a Man Unknown, in 1948, Sartre, in an Introduction, placed her with such authors of “entirely negative works” as Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh, and the Gide of Les Faux-Monnayeurs, and called the whole genre “anti-novel.” In the Fifties, the anti-novel became the New Novel and Sarraute its originator. All these classifications are somewhat artificial and, if applied to Mme. Sarraute, difficult to account for. She has herself pointed out her ancestors, Dostoevsky (especially the Notes from Underground) and Kafka in whom she sees Dostoevsky’s legitimate heir. But this much is true: She wrote at least her first pair of novels, the Portrait and Martereau (1953), against the assumptions of the classical novel of the nineteenth century, where author and reader move in a common world of well-known entities and where easily identifiable characters can be understood through the qualities and possessions bestowed upon them. “Since then,” she writes in her book of essays, The Age of Suspicion, “[this character] has lost everything; his ancestors, his carefully built house, filled from cellar to garret with a variety of objects, down to the tiniest gewgaw, his sources of income and his estates, his clothes, his body, his face…his personality and, frequently, even his name.” Man as such is or has become unknown so that it matters little to the novelist whom he chooses as his “hero” and less into what kind of surrounding he puts him. And since “the character occupied the place of honor between reader and novelist,” since he was “the object of their common devotion,” this arbitrariness of choice indicates a serious break-down in communication.
The New York Review of Books