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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Interrogation

J.M.G. Le Clézio

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To purchase The Interrogation

Title: The Interrogation
Author: J.M.G. Le Clézio
Genre: Novel
Written: 1963 (Eng. 1964)
Length: 245 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Interrogation - US
The Interrogation - UK
The Interrogation - Canada
Le procès-verbal - Canada
The Interrogation - India
Le procès-verbal - France
Das Protokoll - Deutschland
Il verbale - Italia
El atestado - España
  • French title: Le procès-verbal
  • Translated by Daphne Woodward
  • Awarded the prix Renaudot

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Our Assessment:

B : willful aimlessness -- but surprising

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 14/1/1965 Stanley Kauffmann
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/10/1964 Leon S. Roudiez
Time . 23/10/1964 .
TLS . 9/1/1964 John Sturrock
TLS . 15/10/1964 John Sturrock

  From the Reviews:
  • "Here is a very good although uneven first novel, written by a Frenchman (now 24) and well translated into British English. (...) Like his hero, he is full of promise, but he lacks the discipline and will that might have forged a style and purpose. He is still young, however, and anything can happen." - Leon S. Roudiez, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It has intense visual strength and might easily be transcribed into a New Wave movie by some current master of the jolting, hand-held camera. Yet it lacks human warmth, and ends as another pale variation of the modish French anti-novel -- truly a tale of tedium." - Time

  • "The novel has little rational development, but reads like a very intelligent collection of random ideas and even styles. There are some fetching typographical innovations, including words crossed out and what purports to be a page of a newspaper bound into the text at one point. It is extremely ambitious and deliberately naive by turns; there are exotic moments of a sort of Lautreamont mysticism together with careful descriptions of totally irrelevant details, like a Martini sign in the street." - John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Interrogation still does not add up to a book; it is more like a dazzling ray of samples of the books he might one day write." - John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Le Clézio, only twenty-three when he wrote this book (which became a bestseller and won the prix Renaudot), offers a two-page author's note at the beginning of the work, trying his best to both deflate expectations as well as then suggesting how his novel should be read. So, for example, he is upfront about what he sees as its possible faults:

It is perhaps too serious, too mannered and wordy; its style ranges from para-realistic dialogue to pedantically aphoristical bombast.
       He even continues: "But I don't despair of writing a really effective novel later on"; readers and reviewers seem to have given him the benefit of the doubt (rather than asking why he couldn't have just waited until he got it right before publishing ...). Le Clézio demands The Interrogation be seen as a sort of trial-run, an exercise in fiction that he acknowledges isn't entirely a success. He even gets into some specifics:
I have made very little attempt at realistic treatment (I have a stronger and stronger impression that there is no such thing as reality); I would like my story to be taken as a complete fiction, interesting onl in so far as it produces a kind of repercussion (however briefly) on the reader's mind.
       (Disappointingly, Le Clézio even goes on to write: "I apologize for putting forward a few theories this way; that form of vanity is rather too fashionable nowadays", a form of having his cake and eating it too that surely was as tiresome then as it is now; god forbid an author should actually write a text in which whatever cockamamie 'theories' s/he has are self-evident (to anyone who cares to look for them).)
       The Interrogation centres around the figure of almost thirty-year-old Adam Pollo. In his introductory note Le Clézio explains that:
     The Interrogation is the story of a man who is not sure whether he has just left the army or a mental home.
       This is not anywhere near as obvious in the text itself, but apparently it is information that Le Clézio wanted readers to bring to the story (why else mention it ?) .....
       The novel is presented in chapters that are arranged alphabetically, rather than numerically -- to little end, except in that it is out of the ordinary, and hence presumably leads to a slight hesitation on the part of the reader, a pause to wonder why it is now, say, chapter 'D' rather than 'four' ..... Adam has made himself comfortable in a house near the beach whose owners are apparently away for the summer. He eventually expresses some concern about what will happen when they return (including that they might hand him over to the authorities, which he apparently would not mind that much), but for the most part seems happy with his arrangements.
       Adam has made the acquaintance of a young woman, Michèle, and on the one hand he is drawn to her and wants to be with her, but he is also bothered by her not quite living up to his standards; what he really wants is, of course, a sort of ideal, but Michèle is about as tangible a version of this romanticized vision of his mind's eye as he's likely to be able to get his hands on. He tries to explain himself to her, the novel beginning with him writing a series of letters to her, but his exercise in self-definition is more for his own benefit than hers: here, clearly, is a young man trying to find himself (and very far away from doing so). But he is an intriguing figure, and not your usual confused young man (though he is fairly confused). He can get himself worked up at times, but there's also a serenity to him, with moments where: "suddenly, by pure chance, he realized that the whole universe was redolent of peace". And for the most part he is drifting through life, so that:
     You must understand that what was happening to Adam on this particular rainy day might equaly well have happened to him on any other day. On a very windy day, for instance.
       Early on he tries to convey his thinking to Michèle (who is clearly in way over her head):
I'm crushed by the weight of my consciousness. I'm dying of it, that's a fact, Michèle. It's killing me. But fortunately one doesn't live logically. Life isn't logical, perhaps it's a kind of disorder of the consciousness. A disease of the cells. Anyhow, it doesn't matter, there's no reason. One has to talk, I agree, one has to live. But Michèle, isn't it just as well to say only what's really useful ? It's better to keep the other things to oneself until one forgets them, until one comes to live solely for one's own body, seldom moving one's legs, huddled in a corner, more or less hunch-backed, more or less subject to the crazy impulses of the species.
       Adam is a babbler, prone to such outbursts; eventually he lets loose with a long spiel on the street that eventually gets him arrested (and into the newspaper, the headline reading: 'Maniac Arrested at Carros'). Little that he says is useful, at least in any obvious way (the above is about as coherent as he gets), and it becomes clear that he is really much further along with his ambitions than one might have thought. Yes, he's voluble, but really that's, for the most part, just an overflow of words, the stuff that can't be kept in. What's more remarkable is how much he has managed to keep to himself until he's forgotten it. He has little memory and can barely explain anything of the past. (Interestingly, he does admit: "I wanted to be an archaeologist -- or an excavation overseer, I don't quite remember which ...".) He obviously lives almost entirely in the present, but not so much because he wants to overcome the past or any traumas from it (it seems to have been harmless enough, on the whole), but because he wants to "live solely for one's own body".
       He's not quite there yet: causality still has some effect on him, as when he considers the consequences of the owners of the house returning. But on the whole he's getting quite good at living for the moment.
       After his public show -- "haranguing the crowd in an incoherent manner", as the newspaper describes it -- Adam is (again ?) institutionalized, and in the final section of the novel he is questioned by some medical students. He is still able to tell stories, of sorts, but demonstrates again the shift into a sort of timeless (and memoryless) state he has managed to achieve.
       Le Clézio's reliance on a protagonist who is 'not in his right mind' and who 'belongs' in a mental institution -- i.e. is outside societal norms -- is a weak (and way, way overused) fallback, but Adam certainly is not of this world and barely functional, despite a supportive family. He welcomes the monastic solution chosen for him, even with the "few bothers" he will have (keeping his room tidy, occasionally submitting to some tests), as it allows him to lead the life he would like to lead. And Le Clézio also sees more than just an individual's story in this withdrawal, the authorial presence emerging again in the closing paragraph that practically insists there's more to it:
     While awaiting the worst, the story is over. But wait. You'll see. I (please note I haven't used that word too often) think we can count on them. It would be really strange if one of these days there were not something more to say about Adam or some other among him.
       Adam's aimlessness makes The Interrogation like a series of photographs that fade out of focus. He will act or speak like a character in a conventional novel, and then drift towards incoherence. The Interrogation is an unstable novel; it constantly surprises. In his author's note Le Clézio suggested that his approach: "is familiar to all readers of detective stories and so forth" and it turns out that is true. Le Clézio's surprises aren't of the sort one finds in mysteries -- not clues or twists that suggest motives and methods behind a crime -- yet the effect is ultimately similar -- even as it is also unsettling, in that there is little mystery that needs resolving in the novel.
       Le Clézio also has Adam excuse and/or explain his form:
I know we're all more or less literary, but it won't do any longer. Im really tired of ---- It's bound to happen, because one reads too much. One feels obliged to put everything forward in a erfect form. One always feels called upon to illustrate the abstract idea by an example of the latest craze, rather fashionable, indecent if possible, and above al -- and above all, quite unconnected with the question. Good Lord, how phoney it all is !
       In The Interrogation Le Clézio toys with the idea of doing it differently; he doesn't quite manage, but, taken on its own terms, it is a fairly interesting effort.

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The Interrogation: Reviews: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio: Other books by J.M.G. Le Clézio under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was born in 1940. He was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature.

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