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French Author Alain Robbe-Grillet Dies

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French Author Alain Robbe-Grillet Dies
Laurent Lemel

PARIS - Alain Robbe-Grillet, an avant-garde author who dispensed with conventional storytelling as a pioneer of the postwar "new novel" movement in France, died Monday. He was 85.

Robbe-Grillet died at Caen University Hospital in western France, where he had been admitted over the weekend for cardiac problems, hospital officials said.

He was among the most prominent of France's "new novelists" that emerged in the 1950s, which included Nobel Prize laureate Claude Simon, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute. The group's experimental works tossed aside traditional literary conventions like plot and character development, narrative and chronology, chapters and punctuation.

A trained agronomist, Robbe-Grillet in the 1940s suddenly felt drawn to writing, he explained years later. He wanted to tell a story "beyond the norm, in which the hero struggles within unhinged space and time." He was also a filmmaker.

Robbe-Grillet's best-known works of fiction included "Les Gommes" (The Erasers) of 1953, a novel about a detective investigating an apparent murder who ends up killing the victim — and seen as the debut of the "new novel." Two years later, he won France's Critics Prize with "Le Voyeur" (The Voyeur), about the world seen through the eyes of a sadistic killer.

He was catapulted to star status among Parisian Left Bank intellectuals in 1963 with "Pour Un Nouveau Roman," (Toward a New Novel), a highly acclaimed critical essay laying the theoretical foundations of the "new novel" that became the French avant-garde's bible.

Robbe-Grillet also wrote screenplays for films like Alain Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961). Among a dozen films that Robbe-Grillet directed, two in the mid-1970s plumbed sado-erotic fantasies: "Glissements progressifs du plaisir" (Successive Slidings of Pleasure) and "Jeu avec le feu" (Playing with Fire).

Robbe-Grillet was inducted into France's Legion of Honor, and in 2004 became one of the 40 so-called "immortals" of the elite Academie Francaise — the anointed protector of the French language.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the Academie Francaise had lost "without a doubt its most rebellious," member, and "an entire section of French intellectual and literary history has disappeared" with Robbe-Grillet's passing.

Robbe-Grillet was born in the western town of Brest, the son of an engineer. He graduated from the prestigious Lycee Saint-Louis in Paris and received a degree in agricultural engineering from the National Agronomy Institute.

Read by high school and college students the world over, Robbe-Grillet enjoyed an international reputation based on the success of his early works. For nearly a quarter-century, he taught French at New York University.

His survivors and funeral plans were not immediately available.