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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Alain Robbe-Grillet

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To purchase Repetition

Title: Repetition
Author: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 178 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Repetition - US
Repetition - UK
Repetition - Canada
La Reprise - Canada
Repetition - India
La Reprise - France
Die Wiederholung - Deutschland
Reanudación - España
  • French title: La Reprise
  • Translated by Richard Howard

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd, stylish fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 25/4/2003 Tobias Grey
London Rev. of Books . 21/3/2002 John Sturrock
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 20/3/2003 Felix Philipp Ingold
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A (II/2003) Jeffrey DeShell
San Francisco Chronicle . 23/2/2003 Heller McAlpin
TLS . 7/12/2001 Robin Buss
The Village Voice . 21/4/2003 William Poundstone
World Lit. Today . Spring/2002 Betsy Gwyn
Die Zeit . 10/2002 Rolf Vollmann

  Review Consensus:

  Generally fairly impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Robbe-Grillet at his sparkling best, pushing his reader to tease apart the myriad strands of what would in less gifted hands be a straightforward spy story. (...) For Repetition Robbe-Grillet delves into his back catalogue, snatching snippets of dialogue from the likes of L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad, Djinn and Projet pour une Revolution a New York, mixing them to create a heady, seemingly new concoction." - Tobias Grey, Financial Times

  • "Das Erzählen wird hier als ein gross angelegtes Wortspiel praktiziert, die Wörter sind zugleich Träger, Agenten, Helden und auch Requisiten des Romans, in dem und zu dem sie sich, ständig fluktuierend zwischen Wahn und Sinn, entfalten, um eine fiktive Welt mit eigenem Wirklichkeitsstatus hervorzubringen." - Felix Philipp Ingold, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "There’s a real joy here, an exuberance and humor one does not always associate with the sometimes dour and distant (although always emotive) writing of the nouveau roman. It is this delight, combined with the adult mastery of the writing, that makes this book a welcome and important addition to R-G’s oeuvre." - Jeffrey DeShell, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Part spy novel, part textual game, Repetition is not for those who dislike feeling disoriented. (...) What slowly emerges from the fog is a Sophoclean oedipal revenge drama, complete with incest, blindness (Walther's war wound), parricide and fratricide. Mirrors, doubles, double agents, repetitions, trompe l'oeil war paintings, dream sequences, sexual torture, a criminal mafia of postwar Nazis and murky memories add to the disquieting, disorienting literary puzzle." - Heller McAlpin, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The narrative of La Reprise is a pattern that develops in several dimensions to achieve a degree of complexity before unravelling under the stress of its own contradictions, so that the reader is left with the impression of having moved, along a rather tortuous route, from one blank page to another blank page; or, maybe, from one state of ignorance to another. (...) This belated addition is almost a summation of the Robbe-Grillet oeuvre." - Robin Buss, Times Literary Supplement

  • "To anyone scared off by the early novels' reputation, Repetition will come as a pleasant surprise: fast-moving story, well-realized characters, a succession of delightfully unanticipated yet logical revelations." - William Poundstone, The Village Voice

  • "The novel's structure works nicely to highlight the difficulties and desires of meaning. Switching from first person to third, the novel, outside of the prologue and epilogue, takes the form of a series of reports written to the higher-ups in the secretive agency for which the protagonist works. These reports are punctuated by Nabokovian footnotes which become increasingly labyrinthine, a technique used with great aplomb and originality." - Betsy Gwyn, World Literature Today

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:

       In Alain Robbe-Grillet's Repetition the central character is charged with "observing the entire scene and recording it with your usual exactitude". The author has done the same: Repetition is written with a sure hand, the details and descriptions carefully presented. Still, this is not straightforward fiction: things aren't always what they seem and between doubles, repetition, obfuscation by others, and a myriad of motives even the exactly recorded scenes shimmer indistinctly one beside the next. The central character also finds that he is more than a mere observer, drawn into the games going on around him regardless of his attempts to remain at arm's length.
       The setting is post-war Germany, and begins with Henri Robin (so one of the identities of the central character and narrator) arriving in the newly, more permanently divided Berlin in 1949. He is met and given an assignment -- to observe and record. He witnesses what looks like murder, but here and elsewhere nothing is quite clear. A great deal is shrouded in darkness: it is difficult to see things clearly.
       Identities are confused: spies, former Nazis, and others all have reasons to hide their true identities, and many of the characters play at being something different. It also slowly dawns on Henri Robin -- already confounded by his encounters with look-alikes -- that his own identity is more complicated than he had first thought.
       The account the reader is presented with is also -- perhaps ? probably ? -- not entirely trustworthy: footnotes point out mistakes and suggest the author is playing a game with the reader as well (and also elaborate on parts of the story).
       Robbe-Grillet offers a complex tale of repetition, betrayal, and ambiguity (with a good dose of some quite disturbing sex -- and a fun Oedipal surprise). Repetition is part cloak-and-dagger mystery, part twisted family novel. It is atmospheric, it is gripping, -- and it is confusing. Not all readers will be willing to put up with the pervasive confusion -- though the controlled tone (and the relative brevity of the text) make it more manageable than most such opaque texts.
       Robbe-Grillet writes well and has some fun with his story, and it's a clever piece of work, but probably not to everyone's taste. Those who like this sort of thing should enjoy it thoroughly, however.

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Repetition: Reviews: Alain Robbe-Grillet: Other books by Alain Robbe-Grillet under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Alain Robbe-Grillet lived 1922 to 2008.

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