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Isotopias

Places and Spaces in French War Fiction of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

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Peter Tame

This monograph is the first book to examine places and spaces in French war fiction of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These places and spaces are presented as literary isotopias, or fictional «worlds», and analysed in a selective corpus of thirty-three novelists and forty-two examples of war fiction. The book identifies and classifies the various types of isotopia that appear in fiction in the form of scenes, images or literary microcosms. The author establishes four isotopic modes – possession, dispossession or loss, alienation, and repossession – by which means the isotopias are expressed. The spaces considered include territorial demands, gains, possessions, losses and national spaces, as well as internal mental spaces.
The corpus of novels selected for this project covers a wide variety of examples of fictional worlds: the spiritual, the marginal, the regional, the ideological, the psychological, the erotic, the ecological and the political. The methods of analysis identify these worlds, demonstrate both how they function in relation to the characters in the novels and how they affect the reader, and provide further illumination on the intentions, achievements and ideologies of the characters and of the novelists concerned. One of the findings of the study is that the greater the stress of war and conflict the more authors and characters tend to seek refuge in their imaginary (isotopic) worlds.
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Conclusion to Part 5

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If the isotopic modes of possession, loss and repossession figure significantly in Modiano’s fiction, alienation emerges as the dominant mode, as it does with the majority of works analysed here in Part 5. In order to reinforce this finding, we include brief overviews of four further novels, two of which have already been examined earlier.

Although, as we have seen in Part 3, possession is the dominant isotopic mode in the first part of Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes (2006), alienation and, to an even greater extent, loss feature as the dominant modes in the latter part of the novel. The majority of the locations in which the hero, Maximilien Aue, functions as principal character are usually nightmarish dystopias, with extensive empty spaces or menacing buildings in which dark, damp corridors, tunnels and passages lead nowhere or to abyssal voids, as at Babi Yar, in Stalingrad and in Berlin at the end of the war. Recurring nightmares of the Paris métro, particularly frequent in the ‘Stalingrad’ sequence, reinforce Aue’s dizzying loss of a sense of balance and of landmarks as he moves haphazardly through dark, vertiginous, and labyrinthine spaces in his imagination, frequently adopting multiple viewpoints in description and narration.

As the novel progresses, loss increasingly dominates the narration. One of the most powerful features consists of Littell’s subtle narrative connections between the (anti)hero’s inner world – his psychotopia – and the outside world, between the oneiric scenes, often fraught with the (anti)hero’s self-indulgent...

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