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Alain Robbe-Grillet: Les Gommes (The Erasers)

Garinati is a hired assassin. He has been hired to kill Daniel Dupont in Dupont’s apartment. He hides in his study and shoots Dupont when he enters. Next day, he reads the papers and learns that Dupont is dead. In fact, he barely hit Dupont, who is still alive but pretending to be dead to mislead the murderer. The assault was a terrorist attack and the authorities expect that the terrorists will strike again. A police officer, Wallas, has been assigned the case and arrives in the provincial town to do so. However, he learns that the case has been taken out of his hands. Interestingly we learn that one shot has been fired from his gun, which is the same calibre as the one that shot Dupont. We also learn that Wallas has previously visited this town as a child to visit his father, who was separated from his mother. The implication is that Dupont may well be his father. Wallas checks out Dupont’s study but, while doing so, Dupont arrives. Seeing a man there, he assumes the worst and tries to shoot him but Wallas, who does not recognise Dupont, shoots him first, exactly twenty-four hours after the first attempt. In short Oedipus has killed his father. Robbe-Grillet has, as he will do in later works, played around with the detective novel and left us unsure of what really has happened and who is who.

Publishing history

First published in 1953 by Editions de Minuit
First English translation 1964 by Grove Press