February 18, 2008 / 6:17 PM / 10 years ago

"Enfant terrible" Robbe-Grillet dies

PARIS (Reuters) - Writer and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, an “enfant terrible” of France’s literary establishment who helped found the New Novel school in the 1950s, died on Monday aged 85, his publishers said.

Director Alain Robbe-Grillet (C), cast members Dany Verissimo (L) and Marie Espinosa pose during a photocall to introduce their film 'C'est Gradiva qui vous appelle' at the Venice Film Festival, September 8, 2006. Robbe-Grillet, an "enfant terrible" of France's literary establishment who helped found the New Novel school in the 1950s, died on Monday aged 85, his publishers said. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Robbe-Grillet became a cult figure among France’s postwar intelligentsia with a genre of novel-writing that rejected conventions such as plot, characterization and emotion.

It effectively launched a type of semi-philosophical fiction in which nothing much happens but a vast amount is noticed, imagined or thought.

After publication of Les Gommes (The Erasers) in 1953, he went on to publish more than a dozen novels over a 20-year period including Le Voyeur (The Voyeur) in 1955 and La Jalousie (Jealousy) in 1957.

But the cold genre that he helped pioneer, often lacking narrative focus but providing obsessional description of inanimate objects, failed to find broad appeal and never really took hold among the public at large.

With his fame at its height, he was invited in 1961 to write the film script for “L’Annee Derniere a Marienbad” (Last Year at Marienbad) — almost a reflection of the “new novel” in film form, with a repetitive, dream-like interaction of three nameless characters in a chateau.

From then on he largely devoted himself to cinema, not only script-writing but also directing a number of other films including “The Beautiful Prisoner” in 1983.

He was not widely known in many parts of Europe outside France, but won some notoriety in the United States and taught in New York and St Louis for many years until 1990.

Then in October 2007 he shocked the French establishment by penning “A Sentimental Novel” which contained descriptions of incest and pedophilia. He dismissed criticism, saying it was not a serious part of his work.

In 2004 he was elected to the elite Academie Francaise that acts as custodian of the French language.

But a rebel to the end, he refused to accept its conditions for entry which involved buying a ceremonial outfit and making a eulogy to his predecessor, so was never formally admitted to the body.

He died in hospital in the Normandy city of Caen, a spokeswoman for Fayard publishers said. She did not give a cause of death.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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