Short summary - In the labyrinth - Alain Robbe-Grillet

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - In the labyrinth
Alain Robbe-Grillet

The scene of action is a small town on the eve of the arrival of enemy troops. According to the author, the events described in the novel are strictly real, that is, they do not claim any allegorical significance, but the reality is depicted in it not that familiar to the reader from personal experience, but fictional.
The story begins with the fact that a certain soldier, exhausted and numb from the cold, stands in the winter cold under the continuously falling snow near the lantern and waits for someone. In his hands he holds a tin box wrapped in brown paper, similar to a shoebox, in which some things lie, which he must give to someone. He does not remember the name of the street where the meeting is to take place, nor the time; he does not know which military unit he is from, nor whose greatcoat he is wearing. From time to time he moves to another street, exactly the same, covered with snow, drowned in a haze, stands near the exact same lantern, as if through a labyrinth, wanders along the intersection of deserted and straight alleys, not knowing why he is here, nor how long he is has already spent here, not how much more will it withstand. The scenery of the novel is strictly delineated: this is a cafe where a soldier comes in for a glass of wine, a room where a black-haired woman and her disabled husband give him a break, and a former military warehouse, turned into a shelter for the wounded and sick lonely soldiers. These decorations imperceptibly flow into one another, and each time something changes in them, something new is added. The events of the novel are depicted in the form of static scenes, which have neither a past nor a future, in the form of pictures framed in a frame.
Intending to go to one place, the soldier often ends up not at all where he was going, or in his mind, some scenery is suddenly replaced by another. From time to time, a ten-year-old boy is shown to the soldier's eyes, who approaches him, stops, and then enters into a conversation with him, then quickly runs away or simply disappears.
In one of the episodes, a boy brings a soldier to a cafe. The reader sees a static picture of the café visitors and staff, sometimes frozen in the most amazing poses. Then everything suddenly suddenly comes to life, the soldier is waiting for the waitress to come up to him, and asks where is the street, the name of which he does not remember.
Or a soldier, following the boy, finds himself in a dark corridor with many doors and flights of stairs, in which light suddenly appears, then disappears, and the corridor again plunges into twilight. One of the doors opens and a woman comes out in a black dress, with black hair and light eyes. She invites the soldier to come in, sit down at a table covered with oilcloth in a red and white cage and gives him a glass of wine and a loaf of bread. Then she and her disabled husband have a long discussion about which street the soldier needs to get to, and come to the conclusion, unreasonable, that this street is Bouvard street. Equip the boy to escort the soldier. The boy takes him to some kind of house, which turns out to be a shelter for the sick and wounded soldiers. The soldier is allowed inside, although he has no documents with him. He finds himself in a large hall with sealed windows. The room is lined with beds, on which people lie motionless with their eyes wide open. He falls asleep right in a wet overcoat on one of the beds, having previously put his box under the pillow so as not to be stolen. At night, he makes an attempt to find a washbasin in the network of corridors to drink water, but he does not have enough strength to walk. He's got delirium. He dreams of his military past and what happened to him during the day, but in a modified version. The next morning, the paramedic determines that the soldier has a severe fever. He is given medicine, another, dry overcoat, but without stripes. The soldier changes clothes, seizes a moment when no one sees him, and leaves the shelter. Downstairs, he meets yesterday's invalid, who sarcastically remarks to the soldier that today he is in too much of a hurry, and asks what is in his box. The soldier goes out into the street, where he meets the boy again, gives him a glass ball, which he finds in the pocket of his new overcoat, and moves on to a cafe, where he drinks a glass of wine among the motionless and silent visitors around him. Then on the street he meets a man in a fur coat, to whom he confusedly tells why he is here and who he is looking for, hoping that this person is exactly who he needs. However, this turns out to be not the case.
He meets the boy again. The roar of a motorcycle is heard. The soldier and the child manage to hide. Motorcyclists passing by belong to the enemy army. They do not notice those hiding in the doorway and drive by. The boy rushes to run home. The soldier is behind him, silently, fearing that he might attract the attention of the motorcyclists. They come back and wounded the running soldier with shots from machine guns. He runs to a door, opens it and hides inside the building. The motorcyclists looking for him knock on the door, but cannot open it from the outside and leave. The soldier loses consciousness,wakes heup in the same room where the woman treated him to wine. She says that she took him to her with a man in a fur coat, who turned out to be a doctor and gave the soldier an anesthetic injection. The soldier feels extremely weak. At the request of a woman who was so sensitive to him and is now showing a keen interest, he says that the box belongs to his friend who died in the hospital and he had to hand it over to his father. It contains his things and letters to the bride. However, he either confused the meeting place, or was late, but never met his friend's father.
The soldier is dying. A woman ponders what to do with a box of letters.