Project for a Revolution in New York by Alain Robbe-Grillet

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

October 7, San Francisco: Like The Manchurian Candidate, this book was a steady fixture in my favorite books list. Why? I seem to remember liking it. I’ve since read nearly every other Robbe-Grillet book. But if pressed, I couldn’t honestly tell you what transpired in Project for a Revolution in New York beyond Robbe-Grillet’s experimenting with the visual language of film in a novel. This book was top of my list for the Thirty-Three Project: a re-assessment of the canon.

Here was my suspicion: I’ve long-claimed to love Project for a Revolution in New York by Alain Robbe-Grillet because, well, it sounds sexy as hell. That title! That obscure French author! I’ve happily lent this book to Ladies and then searched the dusty shelves of used bookstores when it and they disappeared. The experience of the first reading was also a factor in this suspicion: It was the first book I checked out of the USC Library and I Had to go spelunking for it deep in the stacks, far below ground. Talk about dusty shelves.

So, would I like it on this read?

The answer is yes, thank god. I like this book quite a lot. Don’t get me wrong, it is weird as shit. And I am embarrassed to have lent it to Ladies as it is gratuitously erotic and times a bit rapey and deviant. But it is a technical masterstroke— a long shifting narrative focus like a drunk directing a film. Like a dream inside of a dream half-remembered and recounted in the first layer dream where wakeful logic still fails. Robbe-Grillet’s prose is exquisite. His New York is terrifying. (“When, at dawn, the police assigned to collecting corpses…” yeesh!) But you’re really there for the technical genius of a narrative that follows a) the cues of a film and b) the path of a dreamer.

In retrospect, I should not have been so suspicious— Robbe-Grillet’s other books had an enormous effect on me. Books that feature nameless European cities, almost like this New York is so imagined— I’ve long-dreamed of writing a story set in a similar city. (I’ve got half a draft somewhere.) This book is hard to read, morally and generally, but as a writer I really appreciate it. And I think if we had another Friendster roll around, I’d still include it in my list.

Luckily for you (and for me) there’s a fancy new printing of this book you can buy.

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