In a previous post I wrote about attending the Readings event to launch the English translation of Marie Darrieuessecq’s Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes, and now that I’ve finally finished it (a result of reading three books at once) I can tell you a bit more about the reading experience! The novel is renamed Men for the anglophiles and is subtitled A Novel of Cinema and Desire – quite the pertinent description for summarising what you’re going to get from this book.
Originally published in French by Marie Darrieuessecq.
Translated by Penny Hueston for Text Publishing.
I like to make a point of noting the translator alongside the author since taking a French Translation class at university – it made me realise how much sincere effort goes into translating a literary text and how many important stylistic decisions the translator is required to make. The translator is as much an artist as the author!
Right. Should get on to the actual book, shouldn’t I? While most certainly being a novel of cinema and desire, Men is perhaps more correctly a novel about race and gender.
I found Solange to be a very curious protagonist. I haven’t read All The Way (Darrieuessecq’s earlier novel in which Solange is a teenager), but I gathered from my research that she was a wild and adventurous spirit. In Men, Solange is about 30 and an actress in Hollywood. She falls instantly for Kouhouesso – a black actor with a mysterious and impenetrable air – enters into his “magnetic field” and never emerges. We know from the first few pages, from fleeting retrospective sentences, that she loves him already.
While reading, I noticed how fundamentally attached, almost physically bound, Solange feels to this man who cannot love her as much as he loves his Big Idea (he wants to travel to the Congo to film an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). You get the sense that she would stitch her skin to his if she could. For me this was both a shocking and disturbingly familiar feeling. The female longing for the man she loves seemed both “pathetic” and recognisable to me. No matter how it may appear to others, I can’t help admitting that I can empathise with Solange and her desire to dissolve in to the other person. It’s powerful stuff.
With Kouhouesso, Solange travels into the heart of darkness in more ways than one. She chooses this man over Los Angeles, over family, over whiteness. She journeys to the jungle with him in pursuit of his dream, despite being constantly shunned and confused by him.
The writing is so artful and psychological. The translation may take some getting used to, but after a few chapters it picks up a beautiful rhythm.
Add this one to your list of books to read next!