LA BELLE CAPTIVE by Alain Robbe-Grillet


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 Originally published in France in 1975, La Belle Captive (``The Beautiful Captive'') is a slim novel arranged around and inspired by 77 Magritte paintings. Only a third of the book is given to the writing of renowned French metafictionist (Ghosts in the Mirror, 1990, etc.) and filmmaker (Last Year at Marienbad) Robbe-Grillet. Another third is comprised of the fine black-and-white reproductions of Magritte's surreal paintings, which vaguely mirror the text. The rest is taken up by translator Stoltzfus (French, Comparative Literature, and Creative Writing/Univ. of California, Riverside) in a pedantic prologue filled with lit-critty language (``the Aufhebung of an Aufhebung....a mise en abime''); a similarly dry ``interarts essay''; and a separate plot synopsis. The actual novel starts with a murder, witnessed by the narrator, who is probably the murderer. The narrator/murderer is a doctor, but the doctor act is just a ruse used to entrap young women whom he can then drug and dismember (literally and/or metaphorically). The narrator/murder is sometimes in a hotel, sometimes in a cafÇ, sometimes at a play/opera describing the Magritte paintings/plays, and sometimes in a cell being interrogated by a bunch of strangers in dark suits and bowlers who are asking him about the hotel, the cafÇ, and the holes in the narrative. In not telling this non-story, the narrator/murderer experiments with narrative and anti-narrative (``But what am I saying? And to whom?'') in a haven't-we-seen-this- before way. However, Robbe-Grillet is occasionally successful in creating an unsettling meta-universe by linking (even vaguely) the oblique, singular narrative worlds of Magritte. Overall La Belle Captive is neither thought-provoking nor entertaining, a creation that feels like a lark, and a dated and halfhearted one at that.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-520-05916-6
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1995


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