#Eu27Project: France – Marie Darrieussecq

Marie Darrieussecq: Men (transl. Penny Hueston)

The original title in French Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes is from a famous quote by Marguerite Duras:

Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes. Beaucoup les aimer pour les aimer. Sans cela, ce n’est pas possible on ne peut pas les supporter.

[You have to love men a lot, love them so much in order to love them. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to put up with them.]

So that gives you a clue that this is not necessarily going to be a feminist treatise. Yet, although readers seem to find the first person narrator, French film star Solange, irritating, she strikes me as quite an independent, strong woman, who just happens to become smitten with a younger man. It’s a bit more complex than that, though, because her paramour, Kouhouesso, is a black man who has ambitions to direct a revamped version of The Heart of Darkness on the river Congo. All the clichés about l’amour fou (crazy love), gender and race are examined, although Solange herself seems unaware of the facile assumptions she makes.

I’m not sure why this book has received so much critical dissent. Yes, the first part of the book is all Hollywood froth, very easy to read on the surface, a bit like the gossip magazines.  This serves to make the contrast or gap between Lalaland and the African jungle all the wider. Solange has all the reactions one might expect to the ‘natives’, the insects, the primitive accommodation, although she so badly wants to make this work. Underneath the apparently banal interracial love story, there is a lot lurking: objectification, the attraction of ‘otherness’, construction of identity through gender, race and passion. Fascination with the other yet ultimately a lack of genuine curiosity and desire to embark upon the interior journey (on both sides). It is indeed a modern answer to The Heart of Darkness, written from a woman’s perspective.

There is an excellent review of the book by Compulsive Reader, but I can understand why many people found the story not very original or the characters at all likable. I flip-flopped a lot in my opinion as well: it is a hair’s breadth away from being silly, but I think it just stayed within the realm of the painfully dissecting scalpel.

The reason I chose it for my #EU27Project to represent France (although I will probably read and review other French authors as well) is because I think it says something about the way the EU countries view ‘the others’, the refugees spilling over the borders. Lip service to liberalism and humanity, rhetoric about helping and supporting, but beneath all of that: a lot of fear, stereotypes and excuses. (Incidentally, the English language cover could be said to be objectifying black men somewhat…)

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14 thoughts on “#Eu27Project: France – Marie Darrieussecq”

  1. Completely agree with your comment about the jacket, Marina. It’s very striking but seems to emphasize ‘chiseled ebony features’ in what feels like a very old school stereotypical fashion. The choice of title is also a little puzzling. Thought-provoking review but I don’t think I’ll read the book.

    1. Yes, I think someone from the marketing department got a little carried away with that cover. And I can understand if the book doesn’t appeal to you. I’ve heard good things about the author, so I wanted to give her a try, but it might not be her best book.

  2. It’s really interesting, Marina Sofia, how a book can generate such a lot of criticism, and yet actually have some merit. And it sounds as though there’s a lot going on under the surface with this one – issues that really do need to be explored. I was especially interested in your comments about the ‘otherness’ in the book. Hmm… I can see why you thought there was more here than it seems at first.

    1. Some readers (myself included) felt that ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie had too much polemical stuff which sounded like essays about race in it, while in this novel, one might object that there is not quite enough… Hard balance to strike.

    1. It’s made me reflect about race and expectations of the other. I can see many readers interpret it as ‘he done her wrong’ kind of story and that she is a doormat, but I feel the whole point of the story is that she sees him in terms of his race, so perhaps ‘she done him wrong’ too.

  3. Perversely I find myself wanting to read this. I read Heart of Darkness last year and found it very disturbing and impossible to write about. Perhaps ‘a modern answer to Heart of Darkness, written from a woman’s perspective’ might shed some light for me. Excellent review Marina Sofia; thank you.

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