The association of Nathalie Sarraute (1900–99) with the nouveau roman is inescapable. With Tropisme (1939), she began writing twenty years before that literary movement erupted in 1950s France. Younger writers such as Michel Butor (1926–2016) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922–2008) caught up with her, although she resisted any notion of being part of a literary grouping or school. She always wanted the stage to herself and would not perform her work except in solo. The author of many radio and stage plays, she was indeed a superb performer.

To put it baldly, the nouveau roman dispenses with plots, characters, and even the kind of psychology that has become so customary in the modern novel. What is left, then? What Sarraute called, as in the above-mentioned title, “tropisms,” borrowing...


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