Excerpt: 'A Sentimental Novel' by Alain Robbe-Grillet



1.         At first sight, the place in which I find myself is neutral, white, so to speak; not dazzlingly white, rather of a non-descript hue, deceptive, ephemeral, altogether absent. If there were something to see in front of me, it could be seen without any difficulty under this uniform lighting that is neither excessive nor stingy, stripped, in the final analysis, of all adjectivity. Inside a space such as this, unconvincingly asserting its indifference, it is neither hot nor cold.


2.         The only problem, on reflection, is of a different order altogether: I don’t know what I’m doing here, nor why I’ve come, with what conscious or impulsive intention, that is, if one can even speak of there having been an intention at some point . . . But at what point? Was I perhaps driven here by force, against my will, in spite of myself even, or something else along these lines. Am I in prison for some misdeed, offense, crime, or on the contrary, by mistake, the victim of an unfortunate identification error?


3.         The room seems cubic, without any visible windows or doors, without furniture or decoration. I am motionless, lying on my back, my legs outstretched, my arm resting alongside my body, my torso slightly raised at about a twenty degree incline to the (metallic?) frame of what must be a very low profile box-spring, potentially equipped with an adjustable height function, higher than normal, hinged like those of hospital patients. So, might I be in a clinic, recovering from surgery? The thought crosses my mind that this may well be a morgue, to which my lifeless body has been transported, following some accident . . .


4.         Something, however, just as quickly, stops me from subscribing to such a hypothesis: If I were dead, and most importantly, thus exposed to the freezing atmosphere of a funereal chamber, I would feel the cold penetrate me bit by bit. Whereas, I feel the opposite sensation: the rising warmth of a bower, and very soon of heat even, and rainforest-like exhalations, whose damp and heavy blasts besiege me, disorientate me, invade me. In my torpor, I believe I am seeing the diffuse light of the walls that surround me moving, as though the sun, filtered by the leaves of immense trees teeming overhead with an indistinct murmur, were alighting on land (and on me) in the form of a haze of particles without definite contours, without direction, without plans.


5.         Towards the back wall, the one on which my languorous eyes alight most easily, I distinguish, in the foreground of a picture that is quickly revealed to be a forest landscape of vertical and rectilinear trunks, a sort of basin of water so clear it becomes almost immaterial, an oblong widening of a limpid spring, deep as a bathtub or deeper even, set between gray rounded rocks, soft to the touch, welcoming. A girl is sitting there on a stone polished with age, which to her represents the ideal bench, the water’s edge where her long legs dangle in the blue mirrored swirls of this lovely nymphæum, as natural as it is picturesque, whose temperature must be identical to the air, and to the feminine charms themselves, undulating, liquid already, above the moving mirror and its unforeseen shivers.

Excerpt republished with permission of Dalkey Archive Press. Excerpted from A Sentimental Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated by D.E. Brooke, Copyright 2014 Dalkey Archive Press. Image by Phototoast