By Alain Robbe-Grillet
Translated by John Calder
Alma Classics, 2015
For a novel written in 1947, half-heartedly revised in 1957 and finally published in France in 1978, A Regicide is a disconcertingly contemporary read.
Moreover, it is possible to place your finger on exactly why this is so: Robbe-Grillet’s frequent descriptions of nature, of plants and insects and coastline, as fragile and precarious: that’s what strikes home. The island kingdom where an assassination (imagined? actual?) is played out is battened by tempests, beset by drought. Seasons are awry.
Robbe-Grillet’s disquiet derived, no doubt, from what was the very real fear, in 1947, of a nuclear winter – and in this regard the closing pages of the novel evoke the final apocalyptic scenes of Antonioni’s The Eclipse. In Antonioni’s film, and in A Regicide as well, there’s the sense that what the individuals do doesn’t really matter; there are larger forces at work. Our disquiet, as we read the novel now, is due to an awareness of the finitude of the earth and the very real possibility of environmental collapse. Some wiseguy (not me) has called this awareness a consequence of ‘the planetary turn’; and it makes the novel more relevant now – thanks to John Calder’s vibrant translation, apparently the first rendering into English – than when it came out in France in 1978.
As for the rest, the parts of the novel to do with storyline and character: Boris, the protagonist, is the one who aims to kill a king, the puppet ruler of a totalitarian society. His girlfriend, Laura, is a politico type, so no joy there. She lets him be and he’s enticed by these sirens, which feed into the ecological motif, maybe: the call of the sea. Perhaps there’s a Golden Bough motif in here as well: with the King dead, we have no one to lead, we are in the unknown, lost. What we have lost above all is the illusion that the world is intelligible to human understanding.
A haunting novel.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.