And although there are some pretty gruesome episodes in it, the erotically suggestive nature of the cover conceals a very clever, and often very comical, novel. Although many in the Anglophone world would perhaps disagree with the French world's much more flexible description of this book as a 'novel', because it consists of eight very separate parts, each is linked by that particular sex act, and each written in a different pastiche of a French author: Michel Houellebecq, Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Jean de La Fontaine, Christine Angot, Michel de Montaigne, Vincent Ravalec, and Georges Perec. My aim here is not to comment on all eight pastiches, but simply to comment on a few aspects of the book which particularly captured my attention.
The first – 'Restriction du domaine' – is an obvious comment on Houellebecq's Extension du domaine de la lutte, and the 'restriction' evidently relates to the severing of the organ, so we know where the stories are leading, but we don't know how. Although we know the area when we laugh at the Houellebecqian cynicism, the obsession with sex, and the restricted sex. For instance, the protagonist Pierre Hitkartoff has troubles with getting an erection, although he experiences something of a new lease of life when he becomes a writer. Needless to say, perhaps, there's a particularly violent scene in it when Pierre loses not only his glans penis but also his limbs.
I'm unfamiliar with Tallemant des Réaux (1619–92), let alone his Historiettes, but then Marienské does say in the Prologue that he's little known, and that it's not necessary to be familiar with his work to enjoy the story, and it certainly isn't. Here we have the very sassy fourteen-year-old Marquise Héloïse who's far too independent for her own good, although the reader surely applauds when she bites a few centimeters from the sexually aggressive Capitaine's organ. The king Louis XII has already experienced the young girl's cheekiness, so locks her away in a convent to, er, keep her mouth shut. On pretending to be penitent there though, she asks the Mother Superior for a a crucifix and a hairshirt: she then stuns the Mother with the former, gags her with the latter and runs off to marry a Turkish Sultan!
Another name I was unfamiliar with is the contemporary Vincent Ravalec, whose writing is imitated in this way, with my translation here:
'Virgi's life at the time, it was pure Zola. One stoned evening when we were mates, real mates I mean, Virginia had told us that her father, long-term unemployed embittered by the vicissitudes of his existence, used to sodomize her without Vaseline when he wasn't bashing her mother. She found that really shitty. She was seventeen years old, [...] and no shit, Daddy's perverse practices really stank.'
She goes to see an overworked social worker who just gives her five euros for a tub of Vaseline, so with the male narrator she escapes, becomes a rich high-class prostitute and to cope takes lots of drug cocktails, and the narrative helterskelters into surreal multiple glansectomies, but somehow works its way into a kind of happy ending. Weird.
Next there is the final story dedicated to 'G.P', or Georges Perec, but Marienské couldn't say that because – unlike the previously story mentioned above which has chemical Es in it – this is like Perec's La Disparition in which there are no typographical Es in it. And there are some of the characters in Perec's novel here. There are also, like Perec's novel – many tortuous sentences which abound with foreign words and phrases ('miniskirt' for 'minijupe', 'nada' for 'rien', etc), many slang or familiar words ('toubib' for 'docteur' or 'médecin', 'gus' for 'mec', 'soutif' for 'soutien-gorge', etc), slightly odd expressions ('cubain' for 'cigare', 'RV' for 'rendez-vous') – all to dodge the e-word: inevitably, the plot tends to go adrift as you marvel at the inventiveness.
Yes, a very clever book which all-in-all manages not quite to get too lost in its own cleverness. A book with real bite (although slightly less in the French sense).