Repetition by Alain Robbe-Grillet

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We are in the bombed-out Berlin of 1949, after the Second World War, rendered with an atmosphere reminiscent of Orson Welles’ The Third Man. Henri Robin, a special agent of the French secret service, arrives in the ruined former capital to which he feels linked by a vague but recurrent childhood memory. But the real purpose of his mission has not been revealed to him, for his superiors have decided to afford him only as much information as is indispensable for the action expected of his blind loyalty. But nothing is what it seems, and matters do not turn out as anticipated.

Indeed, the events that punctuate the secret agent’s stay in Berlin are liable to abrupt transitions, thrilling and questionable in equal measure: a shooting, a kidnapping, druggings, encounters with pimps and teenage whores, police interrogations, even some elegantly staged torture. These bloody events take place amid thick fog along the city’s canals, and even more mysterious narrative tricks. Robin—or is the narrator actually twin brothers?—falls in love with a mysterious woman named Jo Kast (a reference to Oedipus’s mother Jocasta). Her teenaged daughter Gegenecke (the German translation of Antigone), a provocative blonde, will form a strange partnership reminiscent of the blind Oedipus led into exile by Antigone. Dupont, the hero of The Erasers, returns here as van Brucke (both names mean “Of the Bridge,” one in French, the other in German). In this astonishing fictional cat-and-mouse game, reminiscent of Daedalus’s labyrinth, nothing that is remembered can be altogether true, but only what is remembered can be real.

Readers of Robbe-Grillet’s novel Erasers will recognize, as the secret agent of Repetition slowly becomes aware that he was in Berlin before—as a child, with his mother, perhaps looking for his father—the same allusions to bits and pieces of the Oedipus story built into the hero’s own. Indeed “erasing” a story by retelling it is the central motif of all Robbe-Grillet’s fiction and films, of which this latest and probably last novel is in many ways the most revealing and triumphant version.

About Alain Robbe-Grillet

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Writer and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet was born in Brest, France in 1922. Robbe-Grillet's first novel, The Erasers (1953) is considered to be one of the first books of the nouveau roman, or new novel, in which external reality is more important than character or plot. His other works included The Voyeur (1955), Jealousy (1957) and Djinn (1981). He worked in the film industry as a writer, actor and director. He died at the age of 85 on February 18, 2008.
Published December 1, 2007 by Grove Press. 209 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, Action & Adventure. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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As a carping annotator begins to find more misleading factual inaccuracies, grammatical inconsistencies, and deceptions in his tale of moving in with von Brücke’s widow Joëlle Kast and his nubile schoolgirl daughter Gigi, Robbe-Grillet figures the unreliability of the narrator, now calling himsel...

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Publishers Weekly

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As the nebulous case plays out, Robin comes to live with the murder victim's wife and adolescent daughter, Gigi, the latter representing a pivotal link to Robin's family history as well as the espionage machinations.

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Entertainment Weekly

A spy tale whose prime puzzle lies in the philosophical intricacies of its own construction, Robbe-Grillet's first novel in two decades begins just after World War II on a train bound for a wrecked Berlin.

Mar 07 2003 | Read Full Review of Repetition

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