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  • Echo’s Voice: The Theatres of Sarraute, Duras, Cixous and Renaudeby Mary Noonan
  • Martina Williams
Echo’s Voice: The Theatres of Sarraute, Duras, Cixous and Renaude. By M aryN oonan. ( Research Monographs in French Studies, 36.) Oxford: Legenda, 2014. 165 pp., ill.

In a short but wide-ranging study, Mary Noonan argues that voice, not the visual, is central to the plays written by four of France’s most successful modern women playwrights. The Introduction makes a strong case for studying the theatres of Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, and Hélène Cixous together: all three women had important works performed in Paris in the winter of 1975–76, and they have worked with the same directors. That Noëlle Renaude is the natural inheritor of some of the shared concerns of these playwrights, and of their experimental attitude towards the theatre, is argued convincingly in a later chapter on Renaude. Noonan’s fairly dense first chapter makes two points that will be key in the rest of her book: that voice is in between body and language (she draws on the work of several French feminist critics, working in the 1970s, who were particularly interested in this in-between position because they saw in it the potential to begin to undo dominant discourse), and that voice is central to the development of selfhood. Noonan’s ambitious aim is to look at how each author uses voice throughout her writing project, and so in the following four chapters she looks briefly at several plays by each playwright. Experimentation with voice is shown to have been a way of examining how selves are created in relation to (in dialogue with) others in Sarraute’s theatre. A lucid chapter on Duras shows that, for Duras, voice has to do with memory and is intimately tied up with our experiences of space. In her chapter on Cixous, Noonan argues that Cixous’s early experiments with voice, which focused on its relationship to the (maternal) body, made way in later plays for a more explicit focus on what she terms an ‘ethico-poetic’ message, a development that seems to have been something of a disappointment to Noonan. Renaude, by contrast, is shown to be consistently experimental in her approach to the theatre. Noonan praises Renaude’s innovative use of voice to stage writing and reading, and particularly the ways in which she uses different fonts and layouts in the script to indicate stage direction: what is staged, finally, is ‘the visual dimension of the written page, and the reader’s movement through it’ (p. 119). These links between the written text, the writing process, voice, and theatre performance are important recurrent questions for Noonan in relation to all of her playwrights. In this way, language and voice are very closely intertwined if not interchangeable in her analysis. The result is that Noonan’s book relies on close readings of extracts from the plays that she analyses, although she never loses sight of the importance of performance and the theatre. Noonan uses voice to situate the work of her playwrights in the context of theories of writing, and so is likely to appeal to scholars interested in the ways in which critical or philosophical thought is taken up differently by (women) writers working in a different genre. [End Page 262]

Martina Williams
University of Nottingham


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