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by John Q McDonald --- 9 August 2002

The Trolley

by Claude Simon

Though only 109 pages long, this is a fascinating and incredibly dense little autobiographical novel by the leader of the French nouveau roman movement. Ostensibly, as the author undergoes treatment in a present-day Parisian hospital, he looks back upon his childhood in coastal southern France. As simple as that "plot" is, the whole thing is an undercurrent of Simon's remarkably visual writing style. He paints a picture of his youth, evoking tram rides from the coast into town, hot afternoons at his family's large wine-producing property, and occasional glimpses into his later years in the army and aboard a sardine boat. His father died in World War 1, after which his mother withered away. And he eventually served in World War 2, was taken prisoner, escaped, and fought in the resistance. Simon also evokes the cool isolation of a hospital stay, though without going in to much detail about his own ailment (which, presumably, he survives). Simon's writing isn't for everyone, certainly. It is ornate, complex, tightly woven, and inventive. He often goes on for pages without punctuation or ending a sentence. The tumble of words is highly evocative and brings to mind images more than any plot or emotion. Many of Simon's books are like this, a few are a touch better than this one. However, this is one of his most accessible novels, and, for the patient, a highly rewarding glimpse into the soft-focus images of one man's youth.

(Claude Simon was awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize for literature.)

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