Short story: “The Beach”

by look i have opinions

“The Beach” (“La Plage”) by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Collected in Instantanés (Snapshots); also translated by Barbara Wright in the anthology French Short Stories 1 / Nouvelles Francaises 1: Parallel Text

A little over five pages in the Wright translation I read (I’ll figure out the rough word count later)

This story has about as little explicit plot as a story can have and still be a story. Kind of like the microfictions I like so much. It has no introspection or character point of view (typical of Robbe-Grillet’s style, I’m told). It has almost no action. The lack of motion and information, far from being dull, provokes a sense of tension. I have to see a story in it; the impulse is as irresistible as seeing a face in a wall socket; besides, the label “short story” is a reasonable demand that we read it as such, even if it looks like something else.

My reading is that the children are fleeing something terrible. They know better than to run—running attracts attention, running tires you out—so they just walk steadily towards a church or a school, a familiar place that rings a bell at regular intervals and will offer refuge. But that’s not exactly a definitive interpretation. They could be castaways. They could be returning to school after being AWOL all morning. There are any number of ways to explain why the narrator has selected these moments to show to us.

I usually get frustrated with static/vague/ambiguous stories because I can’t tell if they’re doing it on purpose or if the author and I are failing to communicate. The main reason this story works for me is that its staticness and ambiguity are foregrounded the whole way through. It’s as though the author has dropped an anvil engraved, “YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON.” Readers like me appreciate that kind of hand-holding.