I finally finished reading the Alain Robbe-Grillet novel ‘Les Gommes’ (The Rubbers or Erasers) last night. It had taken me many weeks. ‘Les Gommes’ is a French nouveau roman or new novel, a school of writing from the fifties and sixties which delights in painstakingly technical descriptions (at the time they were referred to as ‘chosiste’ or ‘thingist’, so much did they engage in the description of inanimate objects). This was a pretty good read but rather difficult for me when I would mostly rather snooze. It tells the story of a detective sent to investigate the murder of a man who is not in fact dead. The detective ends up killing the man, so becoming the murderer of the man whose murder he was investigating. What’s more, the man turns out to be his long-lost father, so making the novel an Oedipal story.
I am rather proud that I persisted in the reading of ‘Les Gommes’. These days I tend to drop texts that do not rapidly seduce me with their charm. And these days this is often depicted as a sign of high competence in itself. I was recently sent a book on how to talk about books I have never read by my friend Eileen, who has certainly got my number on this. It is as if being able to convince an interlocutor that one has actually read something when one has not is a preferable skill to actually having read the book itself. It may well be so. We live in a social world where convincing others is more important than convincing oneself. To be honest, when I am reading, half the time my mind is wandering anyway, so I am not picking up on the details. And yet, even when you are doing this there is a kind of backwash of words that will orientate your mind-wandering. It is like when you listen to a piece of symphonic music, where is your mind supposed to go? There is no meaning manifesting itself. It is just a colour-filter for your mind. The same old thoughts but in a new shade of green or purple. Maybe that way you make more sense of them, or, at least, another sense.