The many narratives of The Planetarium, told from various points of view, revolve around a seemingly simple conceit: a young man has his heart and ambition set on his aunt’s large apartment. But, as in Sarraute’s other books, this plot forms only the surface of what is really happening. Instead, Sarraute focuses on the emotional lives and internal thoughts of her characters in a way that goes beyond what Virginia Woolf did years before.
The spite the young man feels toward his mother-in-law for offering him and his wife cheap chairs for their apartment; the terror inspired during a confrontation between the same young man and his aunt; and the need for approval he feels when he’s around his Gertrude Stein-like literary icon are some of the many internal conflicts that move the narrative forward through the minds of the conflicted and clashing characters.
Always deeply engaging, The Planetarium uses a simple plot to reveal the disparity between the way we see ourselves and the way others see us.