The Flood is the most interesting new work by a young French writer in a decade. In style, theme, and philosophical amplification it draws on and extends the dominant mode of French writing, from Sartre's Nousea and Camus' The Stranger to the later work of Robbe-Grillet, Butor, and Jean Cayrol. It is a meditation on death, anguish, and the disintegration of human possibility, a fantasy in the mind of Francois Besson, the disengaged youthful hero of the novel, as he descends deeper in the everyday world where the demarcations between reality and hallucination slowly dissolve through his experiences (love, crime, vagabondage). The writing is a triumph of descriptive observation, and the unnamed city (the clues suggest Nice) is rendered with an almost enchanted particularity, at once both the outer arena for Besson's adventures and also the mythic extension of his inner world. Le Clezio's is an immensely sophisticated sensibility: the drama here is the horror of contingency and the denial of salvation in human terms. And just as Besson, despairing of analysis, blinds himself, so his quest, a sort of inverted metaphor of existential theology, mirrors the modern consciousness in microcosm. Outside of certain moments in the films of Robert Bresson, nothing quite so mysteriously contemporary, austere, and spiritual as The Flood has yet emerged.