21 October 2013

Philippe Djian: "Oh..." (2012)

 'Oh...' might very politely describe several reactions I had to this book during the course of reading it. There are some surprises, or shocks, in here, and I know that I'm not the only person who had to flick back a page or so to make sure that he'd read something correctly: invariably, I had. I know there's also a temptation to give up on the thing, but again I didn't because, oh...

You wouldn't expect this book to win a prize for political correctness, if there were such an animal, although Djian is a feminist, and the reader has to admit that none of the male characters comes out of this smelling of roses, whereas the female protagonist Michèle (who is also Djian's first female narrator) certainly does. She is intelligent, a free agent, a modern woman, and if she likes very rough sex....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So here goes. The novel begins (although the reader doesn't yet know it, and the cops never will) when Michèle is nursing her rape wounds, but she just carries on with her plans to receive her son Vincent (who is by no means convinced that she fell from her bicycle) and his girlfriend Josie for a meal. Vincent is a shiftless guy who seems to go from McJob to McJob and Josie is pregnant by another guy (who is in prison) and they want Michèle to act as guarantor for an expensive flat they intend to rent in central Paris.

Michèle co-owns a screenwriting agency with Anna, who is her best friend, and she also supports her 75-year-old mother who lives elsewhere in Paris and has a strong taste for much younger boyfriends.

Her mother wants Michèle to visit her father who has been in prison for the last thirty years but he is dead as far as Michèle is concerned – we learn some time later that he massacred 70 children at a Club Mickey.

Michèle is having an affair with Anna's husband, who is as spineless as the other men in the novel, until she meets another man and begins a relationship with him. And although this man turns out to be her rapist (oh...) and is a person who can't get an erection without the rape element, Michèle still continues having sex with him (oh..., oh..., oh...) until Vincent happens in on a sex scene, quite understandably thinks his mother is being raped, and smashes the guy's skull in.

Now, I imagine almost all prospective novelists giving a book proposal such as this to most publishers would receive the 'Don't call us, we'll call you' treatment, but this novel is by Philippe Djian, the guy who wrote 37°2 le matin, which Jean-Jacques Beineix turned into a highly successful movie (Betty Blue in English), and he went on to become one of France's biggest writers.

And believe it or not, Oh... really works, and is quite a stunning book. I would have appreciated indented paragraphs though: as opposed to what Djian might think, it's not 'modern' to leave indents out – it just looks messy and is unhelpful to the reader.

ADDENDUM (1): Philippe Djian's novel 'Oh...' was adapted into a film called Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Isabelle Huppert, in 2016.

ADDENDUM (2): Last night (24 February 2017) Elle won the César for best film, and Isabelle Huppert the César for best female actor for her performance in Elle.


Unknown said...

Was it released in English?

Dr Tony Shaw said...

It appears to have been very recently issued free in an English translation as an ebook, so I should take advantage of the opportunity before it's removed: http://epdflibrary.com/french/free.php?asin=B00I811WQO

Anonymous said...

I've searched high and low for this English ebook and cannot find it ANYWHERE.
Any more help available? Really keen to read this before it turns into a movie.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

The information I mentioned above seems to have been very misleading, and it's now been taken down. Oh... doesn't appear to have been translated, which is surely a very big mistake as - in spite of its non-inclusion in the Oscar nominations - Elle is gonna be huge!