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Alain Robbe-Grillet: Dans le labyrinthe (In the Labyrinth)

The story, of course, is relatively simple. An unknown soldier is wandering around a town after a military defeat in the dead of winter, looking for a man to whom he is to give the personal effects of a fallen comrade. The enemy arrives in the town and the soldier, trying to escape, is wounded. He manages to get to the flat of a woman whose husband is fighting in the war, where he eventually dies. We can see that, at least in part, this comes from Robbe-Grillet’s own experiences in the war and the influence of Kafka is also strong. But this is neither a Kafkaesque novel nor an autobiographical novel. Though the soldier has a fear of labyrinths, of being lost in the town, a Kafkaesque sense of being lost but not knowing where or why one is lost, this is not the key to the novel. What Robbe-Grillet does, as he has done in his earlier novels, is to focus on things, actions, etc. which have, in his view, their own meaning. Of course, doing so in this way, disrupts us, as we are expecting a conventional novel and the things, while seemingly normal, take on a somewhat unusual connotation just because he has focused on them in this somewhat abnormal (from our literary expectations) way. Thus our sense of anxiety, as we get in a Kafka novel, is increased here, though in a different way. And, as with Kafka, we are left unsure of what happened except for the fact that the soldier died.

Publishing history

First published in 1959 by Editions de Minuit
First English translation 1960 by Grove Press
Translated by Richard Howard (Grove); Christine Brooke-Rose (Calder)