Ann Jefferson’s biography of Nathalie Sarraute is a beautiful present to lovers of literature. It tells us the life story of a great writer, the obstacles she faced, her courage, her dignity, and her modesty. Nathalie Sarraute, a distinguished participant in the adventure of the French nouveau roman, turned away, like the other members of this group, from the most perceptible components of narrative fiction: setting, plot, and characters, emphasizing instead style, mood, and atmosphere. Friendlier, more affable than the difficult writing promoted by this trend, Nathalie Sarraute’s prose is still quite enigmatic since, while magnificently capturing the hesitations of both the inner voice and the audible talk, it lets readers figure out who speaks, where, and why. Her biographer, by contrast, offers us an explicit, realist story that has a strong, unforgettable main character. It describes her national and social background; it carefully follows her life path, explaining...

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