After the Second World War, a succession of French novelists—most famously Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, and Michel Butor—developed a kind of fiction which, though influenced by American writers like Ernest Hemingway, nonetheless took on qualities distinctly its own. The features which characterize what came to be known as the “nouveau roman” include, in the words of one (amazingly) sympathetic literary historian, “plotless stories from which motivation, the stock property of the traditional novel, is absent; nameless hero-narrators; banalities expressed by disarming clichés; absence of psychological verisimilitude.” Much of this fiction is addressed to the reader in the second person singular and takes place in the present tense; what action there is transpires in cinematic, non-chronological quick-takes; the thought, often tinged with Marxist ideology, tends toward an...


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