Similar in many ways to Lévinas' philosophical trajectory, Le Clézio's literary undertaking details the disjointed stages of a journey from the self-contained solitude of Being to an exposed elsewhere in what Lévinas calls the "au-delà de l'être."
The multi-layered text of La quarantaine fictionalizes the crisis that caused Le Clézio's great-uncle to be erased from family history and depicts the transgenerational effects of that disappearance.
The originality of Le Clézio's work stems from the double inscription of the alterity of both eros and ethics in an Other who is gendered female.
His text explores the process of rupture and exposure that Lévinas valorizes, but it does so in a way that reveals how a female subject, who both welcomes discreetly and imposes herself indiscreetly, challenges what Lévinas calls the "égoïté tragique" of the other protagonists.
Le Clézio's arrestingly beautiful prose serves as a kind of textual face that expresses concretely the complexity of Lévinas' preoccupations and summons us as readers to exceed our capacities and live otherwise
— Karen D. Levy, Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures
In La quarantaine Le Clezio engages his personal interest in the tiny French colonies of the Indian Ocean, as he describes in great detail the fate of three travelers who are forced into quarantine, in the latter stages of the nineteenth century, on a small, uninviting island not far from their destination of l'Ile Maurice (Mauritius).
The first-person narrative of this adventure, related by one Leon Archambau, is framed by the efforts of another narrator. The latter, living at the end of the twentieth century, is the great-nephew of Leon and the grandson of Jacques and Suzanne Archambau, Leon's brother and sister-in-law, who together with Leon are abandoned in quarantine on l'Ile Plate. The brief framing narrative attempts to recuperate and understand the story of Leon, Jacques, Suzanne, and their frightening adventure.
— William Thompson "Voyage and immobility in J.M.G. Le Clezio's 'Desert' and 'La quarantaine.'"(World Literature Today)(FindArticles.com)