The “experimental novel” of Claude Mauriac. The Marquise Went Out at Five. Paul Valery, asked why he never embarked on a novel said, “I could not bear to write down the words, ‘The Marquise Went Out At Five.’” A poet, Valery detested logical sequences and obvious patterns. He meant that he could not endure the boredom that novelists are prone to inflict upon themselves and their audiences. That is, the tedium of chronological order with little detail left to the reader’s imagination. So, only an interesting writer would choose such a lively title.
Mauriac’s book itself is interesting but unintelligible; like Finnegan’s Wake it is comprehensible only to those willing to spend several months or even years cracking the code. No characters are dirctly introduced, little inidcation of time and place, no chapter divisions and three hundred odd pages of of a succession of fragmentary thoughts, broken conversaton, echoes of speech and song in the grand manner of French narcissism that helped define an entire epoch of New Wave.
The first three paragraphs are introduced by the favorite French typographical device for showing incompeteness … De l’autre cote du carrefour and the same three dots terminate each of them. All interior monologues of different people, words spoken aloud in which with great difficulty one can begin to identify the speakers and the thinkers. Introductory triple dots for page upon page, like being blindfolded and set down in a strange city and told to find one’s way without asking questions. Its easy to abandon despite some charming things such as the personality of Paris in all its lewd, elegance and vivaciousness that emerges behind all the talk …
His earlier novel, The Dinner Party, is far shorter and easier. The host and hostess with their guests are named on the seating plan and soon identify themselves by their exchanges of conversation and their thoughts about one another. Although this novel follows the same continous flow, it is clearly punctuated by the rhythm everyone knows. On the first page, the guests are being seated. On the last, they have risen and are passing into the drawing room. In between, wine is poured and poured and both the conversation and thoughts of the eight characters becomes more intense and indiscreet. At the end, we know them well, have seen much of their past, and can forecast the future with accuracy. Its very brilliant, and does lead one back to the Marquise.
On a second read, on begins to identify the characters concerned, and like figures on a photograph in the old days of the development tank, they grow clearer, separating themselves from one another, acquiring lights, and shadows, and individual poses and characteristic expressions. Meanwhile, the shape of the book in time, and its internal punctuation also emerges. It is a fine conception, all worked out with a skill that is intrinsically alien at its core to the hegemonic American cultural values we seem so readily willing to swallow. It is the sort of work that few novelists would have the patience or the delicacy to apply, seemingly too high risk and commercially unviable in our formula driven context and superficial explorations that would register with a mass audience. The contrapuntal plan that brings the reader into direct and intimate confrontation with the characters, which makes one forget you are actually reading a book since there is no unity of action or single “plot.”
(see link at end) …The arbitrary nature of narrative devices irked Valéry; they pretended to an authority that was, at bottom, a sham. They invited us to treat mere fancy as hard fact.In “What Ever Happened to Modernism?” Valéry’s sample sentence serves the English novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici as both a chapter title and a running motif. For, as he notes, the problem of our punctual marquise strikes at the heart of conventional fiction. A novel, to be compelling, has to have plot, dramatic incident and narrative momentum, but these are the very elements that are lacking in our daily lives, confused and messy as they are. It is the distinction of Modernism, Mr. Josipovici argues, to acknowledge that the stories we tell ourselves—even as we strive to fill them with coherence, dramatic logic and ultimate meaning—are hopelessly flawed, incomplete and contradictory.
Modernism, as conventionally understood, was an early 20th- century movement that affected all the arts; it simultaneously broke with tradition and drew self-consciously on ….Even more portentously, Modernism is a kind of anguished repudiation—”a response to the simplifications of the self and of life that Protestantism and the Enlightenment brought with them.” Its intimacy lies in the stubborn effort, especially on the part of Modernist novelists, to render those little hesitations, those sieges of doubt, those a nxious questionings that beset us even as we attempt to construct some credible narrative of our lives. The true Modernist narrative always involves a disrupted momentum….Read More:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703556604575502133666270428.html