Une femme rencontre un homme. Coup de foudre. Il se trouve que l’homme est noir. « C’est quoi, un Noir ? Et d’abord, c’est de quelle couleur ? » La question que pose Jean Genet dans Les Nègres, cette femme va y être confrontée comme par surprise. Et c’est quoi, l’Afrique ? Elle essaie de se renseigner. Elle lit, elle pose des questions. C’est la Solange du précédent roman de Marie Darrieussecq, Clèves, elle a fait du chemin depuis son village natal, dans sa « tribu » à elle, où tout le monde était blanc.
L’homme qu’elle aime est habité par une grande idée : il veut tourner un film…
Pig Tales. A Novel of Lust and Transformation (1996)
“Difficult to write one’s story when one lives in a pigsty—when one has, in fact, become a sow. Yet such is the narrator’s extraordinary adventure in this terribly sensual fable” (Marie Darrieussecq).
Upon its publication in 1996, Pig Tales, the first of Marie Darrieussecq’s novels, was met with immediate success. As one critic writing for Les Inrockuptibles (4 September 1996) observed, in reading this novel, “One laughs, yet in terror, for the metamorphosis of the narrator-as-pig reveals, in counterpoint, the aimless drifting of a society in which the pig is not always the pork.”
The story of a young woman who is slowly transformed into a sow, the novel bears strains of Kafka yet reveals, finally, an entirely original, subtly penetrating perspective. According to Libération (29 August 1996), “The theme of metamorphosis is not truly new in literature… But on this theme, the author varies with audacity and a certain raw humor, and she cultivates in her fable…a falsely innocent realism.”
In fact, the novel is particularly interested in the question of consciousness; as Darrieussecq explains in an interview with Jean-Marc Terrasse, the story’s narrator “is compelled [as a result of her transformation] to think for the first time…She becomes a person; it is the metamorphosis of a female object into a conscious woman” (http://www.uri.edu/artsci/ml/durand/darrieussecq/fr/terrasse.pdf). In this sense the novel is, according to the author, “The story of liberation through thought” (Terrasse 258).
My Phantom Husband (1998)
“It is, from the beginning, a simple, sad, even banal story. A man disappears. His wife anticipates his return, she does not resign herself to his disappearance, she searches for him” (Marie Darrieussecq).
The second novel by Darrieussecq, My Phantom Husband, evokes and examines the experience of loss and the nature of absence. According to Le Monde (20 February 1998), “With a surprising assurance, a certain clinical imagination, Marie Darrieussecq tells of this inundation through absence, this palpable density of emptiness…Nothing remains in place.”
The inexplicable disappearance of the man and the subsequent anguish of his wife are, finally, mechanisms for a yet deeper investigation; specifically, for a nuanced, penetrating consideration of the diverse sensations and emotions that shape and inform human existence. Thus, within the pages of this novel, the human world “opens out upon its mystery, upon its inconceivable layers, upon its enigmas, the great infinity, the small infinity, the powerfully shifting infinity rocked by expectation” (Le Monde).
Breathing Underwater (UK) / Undercurrents (US) (1999)
“It is the story of the ocean, of the presence of the ocean. One ought to say of its omnipresence, so that all that is not of it appears reduced to a quasi absence: the coast, the beach, the beings who, along its edge, fear it, contemplate to the point of drunkenness or meditate before its spectacle” (Le Monde, 19 March 1999).
In her third novel, Darrieussecq tells the story of a young mother who, with her daughter, flees suddenly and inexplicably to the Basque coast. When the father finally recovers the child, the mother departs, alone, for Australia, in search of a kind of elusive peace (James Estes, Marie Darrieussecq Web Site). As one reviewer noted upon the book’s publication, “The construction, through alternating points of view…imposes a complexity that resembles anguish…From this point, everything becomes possible” (Les Inrockuptibles, 17 March 1999).
Thus, once again, Darrieussecq conjures an ambiguous universe, one that is simultaneously surreal and irrepressibly human. Indeed throughout this novel, there persist the eternal questions of existence, of the textures and rhythms of memory and experience. These questions are, ultimately, captured and rendered vivid through the ocean’s consuming presence: “How does one remember the ocean? How does one distinguish the separation of the ocean’s edge from that of the earth?…The entire maritime landscape becomes this glass that must be broken in order to live” (Les Inrockuptibles).
Précisions sur les vagues [Clarifications on the Waves] (1999)
A kind of brief yet rich meditation on the details of the ocean, this piece searches for the abstract essence of the marine world while manifesting, finally, a distinct sensorial universe:
“Published on the occasion of Breathing Underwater / Undercurrents, this short text is the description of minute marine phenomena, of which one knows not whether they are proven, nor whether they reveal something of the scientific or, rather, of the poetic… Reality develops, swells…to the point of generating rather curious images” (Marie Darrieussecq Web Site).
A Brief Stay With the Living (2001)
“Plunged into four human minds: it is the narrative challenge of Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel” (Les Inrockuptibles, 21 August 2001).
In this work, Darrieussecq creates a complex web of shifting internal monologues, which further illuminate the nature of grief and the dimensions of communication and consciousness. As Isabelle Martin observed in Le Temps (1 September 2001), “Fugue, flight, disappearance, presence-absence, somnambulism, accidents of memory: the novel plays with all these themes in infinite variations.”
The story is, in fact, that of a family devastated by grief. The death of one its members—a young boy of three—has left at the family’s emotional center “a pit, a hollow, an absence, an emptiness around which everything, in the same cruel movement, is disassembled then remade, but badly” (Marie Darrieussecq Web Site). Darrieussecq, by evoking the individualized yet overlapping emotions of each family member, reveals both the implications of loss and the painful, variegated textures of emotional experience. The novel therefore offers a nuanced, abstract consideration of conscious existence, and the reader ultimately finds himself “in the interior of heads, of consciences, of spirits” (Le Monde, 31 August 2001).
Le Bébé [The Baby] (2002)
Published concurrently with the birth of her son, 2002’s Le Bébé offers a much more intimate setting than much of Darrieussecq’s previous work.
Marie has even hinted that this is the most autobiographical of her books; however, this cannot be confirmed as neither the mother nor the baby is given a name in the novel. Written in part to address the lack of babies as subjects in literature, this novel is very much focused on reality and the study of maternal life, and it is designed to make us ask ourselves questions typically ignored in popular writing. What are we to make of the discourse surrounding infants? What is motherhood? Why do women give birth instead of men? Are we assigned to our biological body?
As always, Marie Darrieussecq seeks another language opposed to the usual clichés, and no language is more codified by clichés than motherhood. More specifically, Darrieussecq questions the conflict (inherited from Simone de Beauvoir) between motherhood and the freedom to be an intellectual.
Aptly named, Marie Darrieusecq’s seventh novel, White (2003), tells the story of Edmée and Peter, two engineers who find themselves on an isolated European base in the South Pole. Both have demons in their past from which they are running, and both seem to find solace in the barren landscape which lies secluded from the rest of the world. Over the course of their six month stay, Edmée and Peter grow more and more close, clinging to each other as a way to escape the harsh emptiness of their frigid world, both in the past and in the physical present.
Though drawn to the idea of nothingness, the characters must be careful not to join the community of ghosts haunting the nearly inhospitable landscape. In an artistic and precise execution, White comes across as “…a sort of poem—soft and funny, mathematical and fantastical—in which perceptions of the world—material, mathematical, as well as sentimental—are put into words, impressions, visions and equations.” (Nathalie Crom, La Croix, 4 September 2003).
Both subtle and emotional, the story serves as a reminder that “everything is white, but between that white, lays the essential” (Pascal Gavilet, La Tribune de Genève, August 25, 2003)
Le Pays [The Country] (2005)
Having explored the intricate realm of motherhood with 2002’s Le Bébé, here Darrieussecq invites the reader to join her in what is arguably a world of equal creation: the world of writing. Combining motherhood with authorship, Le Pays asks us not only what happens when one gives birth to human life or literary life, but approaches the two as concurrent and ultimately very similar forces.
Marie Rivière, the main character, is both an author and a mother like Darrieussecq herself. Married and with one two-year-old child, Marie decides to leave the city of Paris in pursuit of her own roots. She returns home to find the remains of her family: an artistic mother, somewhat famous; her defeated father, who now lives in a trailer; and the memories surrounding her dead brother. In the country, where a slower way of life proves to be a great contrast to the bustle of Paris, Marie finds herself submerged in a sensory revisit to her own history whilst contemplating the future.
Very self-aware, Le Pays exposes the creative process of existing and of bringing something else into existence, whether biologically or textually (P.O.L.).
Like Marie Darrieussecq’s other works, Zoo is one of humor, suspense, and a sense of the fantastic. Written over the last 20 years, this is a collection of fifteen short stories, each of which can truly function independently without coming across as a mere unfinished fragment of a novel. In these stories one can find recurring themes of science, dreams, and animals, as well as some amazing human beings (Literary Fiction).
The 2006 release of Zoo puts it exactly ten years after the 1996 release of Darrieussecq’s first novel, Pig Tales. Since then, she has enjoyed much success, and Zoo was considered one of the year’s most eagerly awaited pieces of French literature (Literary Fiction).
Tom est mort [Tom is Dead] (2007)
Again tackling one of the most horrifying aspects of human existence, Marie Darrieussecq urges her readers to appreciate the complete pain of loss in her 2007 novel Tom est mort.
Ten years after the death of her son, the main character suffers still. Without knowing at first exactly how Tom died, we follow the story of the aftermath as one woman struggles with grief and possibly insanity in the wake of her child’s death. Darrieussecq has a point: astute readers will note that dead children have haunted Darrieussecq’s books since the beginning, and Tom est mort is no exception.
Whether through personal experience or sheer creativity, Darrieussecq puts the reader in the position of an emotionally destroyed mother, is a powerful move as we are forced to consider the silence that “descends in [the mother’s] veins and paralyzed the muscles of [her] cheeks” (P.O.L.).