12 January 2017

Marie Darrieussecq: Naissance des fantômes | My Phantom Husband (1998)

Marie Darrieussecq's second novel, Naissance des fantômes (1998) (translated into English as My Phantom Husband), gained a great deal of publicity in no small part due to Marie NDiaye's unexpected and very strong reaction against the novel. In a letter published in Libération, NDiaye speaks not of Darrieussecq's plagiarism but of her 'singerie', perhaps best translated as 'mimicry'. The letter quotes JDD (Journal de dimanche) as stating that Naissance des fantômes 'irresistibly' conjures up NDiaye's universe, and also quotes L'Événement du jeudi claiming that in many places the novel can pass for a pastiche of NDiaye's La Sorcière. Darrieussecq – who several years later was heavily criticized by Camille Laurens for her novel Tom est mort (2007) – was appalled by NDiaye's reaction, which she attributed to jealousy. Darrieussecq published her first major work of non-fiction in 2010, Rapport de police : Accusations de plagiat et autres modes de surveillance de la fiction, whose Introduction starts with a quotation by NDiaye from Pierre Assouline's blog, in which in an interview she said 'Je suis sûre que Marie Darrieussecq est foncièrement malhonnête': 'I'm certain that Marie Darrieussecq is basically dishonest'. Having read both La Sorcière and Naissance des fantômes (but as yet, not Rapport de police), I make no comment either way on the statement.

Naissance des fantômes is relatively brief (only 158 pages), and reviews of it differ wildly: from the (almost always) strong but vague criticisms to the (almost always) strong but vague praises. There is one constant in the reviews, amateur and professional, which I've read: no one seems to have anything of interest and/or value to say about this novel. And I can do no better at all, apart from refuse to make glib praises or meaningless criticisms of Darrieussecq's book. It's complex, and deserves more than the single reading I've so far given it.

Certainly we're in a kind of Marie NDiaye territory, say Un temps de saison, when the (unnamed) protagonist speaks of her (equally unnamed) husband,  who for no apparent reason whatsoever has disappeared after just popping out to buy the baguette which his wife has forgotten to buy. The reader knows from the start that the disappearance is permanent, that nothing further will ever be heard of the husband, that he has just gone for good. He will never be seen again apart, of course from in visions in memory, tricks of the imagination, maybe hallucinations, or whatever. No amount of probing relatives, reports to the police, investigations into accidents at hospitals, and so on, will ever bear fruit.

We're in uncharted territory, a weird land that Modiano perhaps missed out on, hallucinatory visions of events and people. There are no pat conclusions, no conclusions at all, just a tortuous text echoing tortuous thoughts.

My other Marie Darrieussecq post:

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Marie Darrieussecq: Tom est mort | Tom Is Dead

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