Nathalie Sarraute (1900–1999) was a leading writer of French avant-garde literature. In 1963, she was awarded the Prix International de Littérature for her novel The Golden Fruits. Her best-selling novel Childhood (1983) was adapted into a one-act play starring Glenn Close.
Hailed as a masterpiece by Jean Genet, Marguerite Duras, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Tropisms is considered one of the defining texts of the Nouveau Roman movement. Nathalie Sarraute has defined her work as the “movements that are hidden under the commonplace, harmless instances of our everyday lives.” Like figures in a grainy photograph, Sarraute’s characters are blurred and shadowy, while her narrative never develops beyond a stressed moment. Instead, Sarraute brilliantly finds and elaborates subtle details—when a relationship changes, when we fall slightly deeper into love, or when something innocent tilts to the smallest degree toward suspicion.
This collection of vignettes, made up of short scenes and anecdotes, reads like quiet prose poems that stay with the reader. Translated by Maria Jolas, Tropisms is a masterpiece, short but powerful in every sense.
— Juan Vidal, NPR Best Books of 2015
It was Sarraute who started the denunciation of ‘character’ in the Balzacian sense, and tried to find the inner impulses of the hero at the moment he endeavors to express himself. What she calls ‘tropisms’ are the tiny imperceptible interactions between people—the little games of aggression and retreat, the miniscule battles that constitute the present state of the psyche.
— Alain Robbe-Grillet, Paris Review
Tropisms—something like ‘prose poems’—as Sarraute calls them that—this is her form! Her texture is anti-novelistic, though she’s decided to write ‘novels’ and launched an important critique of the novel on the basis of her method.
— Susan Sontag
Reading Sarraute is like watching a news broadcast in which the anchorman speaks trivilaties and bromides while the crawl below sends word of seiges and conflagrations in a slowly unwinding procession.
— James Gibbons, BOOKFORUM
Sarraute has cracked open the ‘smooth and hard’ surface of the traditional characters in order to discover the endless vibrations of moods and sentiments, the tremors of a never-ending series of earthquakes in the microcosm of the self.
— Hannah Arendt, The New York Review of Books
Sarraute shows us in small immediate moves how a person can be pushed toward marriage or murder.