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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Nathalie Sarraute

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Tropisms

Title: Tropisms
Author: Nathalie Sarraute
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1939, rev. 1957 (Eng. 1963)
Length: 54 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Tropisms - US
Tropisms - UK
Tropisms - Canada
Tropismes - Canada
Tropisms - India
Tropismes - France
Tropismen - Deutschland
Tropismos - España
  • French title: Tropismes
  • Translated by Maria Jolas
  • With a Foreword by the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive small selection of miniatures

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Times . 13/2/1964 .
TLS . 30/1/1964 J. Rayner Heppenstall

  From the Reviews:
  • ""Tropisms" are short passages of prose in which single situations (...) are examined with a microscopic attention to detail that hypnotizes the reader as surely as a weasel can hypnotize a hen." - The Times

  • "In these early Tropisms it's often difficult to see what the stimulus is." - J. Rayner Heppenstall, 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:

       Tropisms is, famously, Nathalie Sarraute's first work, while Sarraute is, famously, considered among the most representative authors of the nouveau roman. Yet Tropisms isn't a novel; at barely more than fifty pages this collection of twenty-four separate pieces is, in every respect -- save impact -- miniature.
       In her Foreword Sarraute explains that what she was trying to do was to: "show certain inner 'movements'":

     These movements, of which we are hardly cognizant, slip through us on the frontiers of consciousness in the form of undefinable, extremely rapid sensations. They hide behind our gestures, beneath the words we speak, the feelings we manifest, are aware of experiencing, and able to define. They seemed, and still seem to me to constitute the secret source of our existence, in what might be called its nascent state.
       With characters serving as mere props and no distracting 'plots', Sarraute wants to focus attention -- hers and the reader's -- entirely on these movements, these 'tropisms' as she calls them.
       These are more vignettes than stories, yet they capture larger as well as smaller scenes, and there's considerable depth to them as they are anything but static. Sarraute rarely identifies any of the figures that appear by name -- sticking to a general 'they', or he and she, her protagonists (to the extent they can be called that) representative rather than truly individual -- but does occasionally anchor them in site- and context-specificity.
       She can be devastatingly, graphically cutting in her broad but precise summings-up:
     There were a great many like her, hungry, pitiless parasites, leeches, firmly settled on the articles that appeared, slugs stuck everywhere, spreading their mucus on corners of Rimbaud, sucking on Mallarmé, lending one another Ulysses or the Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge, which they slimed with their low understanding.
       Despite being very short, many of the tropisms have an expansive feel, with even those which are almost simply snapshots conveying more than just the moment. Her language -- and the translation -- is careful and precise; one can sense how much effort has been put into formulating everything just right. Occasionally she breaks out of simple narrative -- "They, they, they, they, always they, voracious, chirping, dainty." -- to good effect (and all the more so because she doesn't overdo it or fall back on it too often).
       Often she builds up several layers -- simply, it seems, yet packing in a great deal, and to powerful effect:
     You should not rebel, dream, hope, make an effort, flee, you had only to choose carefully (the waiter was waiting) whether it was to be a grenadine or a coffee ? with milk or black ? while accepting unassumingly to live -- here or there -- and let time go by.
       Sarraute suggests in her Foreword that:
     This first book contains in nuce all the raw material that I have continued to develop in my later work.
       As such, it is of course a great -- indeed essential -- starting point -- and arguably not merely for specifically Sarraute's œuvre, but as a welcoming gateway into the larger nouveau roman-school of writing. Easily digestible -- not just because it's short -- Tropisms may also surprise those who have been led to believe anything associated with (or labeled) the nouveau roman is inevitably arid and tiresome -- and as such this is a helpful stepping-stone to some of the more ambitious (at least in size and scope) later works
       A very -- almost too -- small collection of finely wrought pieces, Tropisms is a work that is of more than mere literary-historical interest and well worth picking up and dipping into.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 November 2015

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Tropisms: Reviews: Nathalie Sarraute: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Nathalie Sarraute lived 1900 to 1999.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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