After a week in Japan, it’s time to move on, and my next Women in Translation Month adventures will take us to France, for two very different books. Later this week, we’ll be treated to a family saga exploring identity and post-colonialism, but today’s choice continues the slightly bizarre trend set by by Japanese #WITMonth reads. It’s the story of a woman and the changes she undergoes while finding out what life is all about – and when I say changes…
Marie Darrieussecq’s Trusimes (Pig Tales) is a short novel entirely narrated by a nameless female character, and from the very start, she issues a warning that this is no ordinary tale:
Je sais à quel point cette histoire pourra semer de trouble et d’angoisse, à quel point elle perturbera de gens. Je me doute que l’éditeur qui acceptera de prendre en charge ce manuscrit s’exposera à d’infinis ennuis. La prison ne lui sera san doute pas épargnée, et je tiens à lui demander tout de suite pardon pour le dérangement. Mais il faut que j’écrive ce livre sans plus tarder, parce que si on me retrouve dans l’état où je suis maintenant, personne ne voudra ni m’écouter ni me croire.
p.11 ( Folio, 2011)
I know how much this story might stir up trouble and anxiety, how much it will disturb people. I suspect that any editor who takes up this manuscript will expose themself to countless worries. They will undoubtedly not be spared prison, and from the very start I would like to beg their pardon for the inconvenience. But I must write this book without further delay, because if I’m found in the state I’m currently in, nobody will want to hear me out or believe me. *** (my translation)
It’s certainly not a story for those expecting wholesome fare. Starting off as a kind of a diary of a call girl, Truismes has the narrator recounting how she found work in a massage parlour, where she becomes a big hit because of her curves and her glowing skin.
And yet, her life and career soon take a turn for the worse. She’s plagued by phantom pregnancies and skin issues, also putting on weight despite eating virtually nothing, and it isn’t long before she’s out on the street, abandoned by her partner. Still, she’s a survivor, and with time she begins to enjoy her new, slightly bizarre, life, finding it much better than the chaos she sees unfolding around her in ‘civilised’ society…
Truismes is a book I picked up years ago, and it’s been hidden at the back of my shelves behind several piles the whole time. As I result, I went into my reading knowing nothing about it, and it was a rather pleasant surprise. Of course, the change the woman undergoes is actually signposted quite heavily in the blurb for Linda Coverdale’s English-language translation (published by Faber & Faber), and is given away in the title, too. Initially, I thought that was a little strange, given the original title simply meant ‘truisms, banalities’. Until, that is, I encountered a new word in the course of my reading: truie – or ‘sow’…
Darrieussecq’s debut work is a picaresque novel with our cheerful heroine moving from one catastrophe to the next. Over the course of her experiences, she works in a brothel, participates in orgies, lives in the sewers, gets shut up in an institution and meets the president. The story never stands still for long, and there’s a beauty to the way the woman simply goes with the flow, happy to go along with whatever comes her way, whether that be acorns for lunch or affairs with hotel cleaners.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. Truismes is a social novel, set in an alternate near future (originally published in 1996, but already mentioning Euros). Much of the second half of the book involves the character Edgar, a shady, charismatic politician she gets involved with who eventually becomes president. Here, there’s a political edge, with the woman dropping hints about the corrupt regime that ensues, one where expelling foreigners and cutting social services so that pockets can be lined is the norm. It isn’t long before chaos reigns in a country where all pretence of good government has vanished.
As you’d expect, another major theme is the role of women. The narrator is constantly judged on her appearance, her rises and falls corresponding with fluctuations in her body size. This acts as a commentary on a society still seeing women as ornaments to make a man’s life and work more comfortable, with most of the female characters fulfilling that role. Sex is never far away, and even if the woman is very upfront about enjoying it, even this becomes a chore, especially when men demand some rather unusual things behind the closed curtains of her “parfumerie”.
Part of the fun of Truismes is the woman’s gradual transformation, and it might just be that I’m particularly dense, but I only caught on slowly, not really picking up the clues from the early pages. Eventually, though, the direction the book is taking becomes unmistakeable:
Et puis j’ai vu une flaque, sous le banc. Une belle flaque avec de la boue bien tiède sous le soleil et de l’eau de pluie fraîchement tombée. (p.85)
And then I saw a puddle, under the bench. A lovely puddle with mud nice and warm from the sun, and freshly fallen rain water. ***
By the time we get to muddy puddles – well, we might as well have done with it and just call her Peppa…
It’s all wonderfully done, with a flow of words sweeping the reader along. The text consists of lengthy sections with no paragraphs, a monologue told by the narrator at a future time, diary entries reflecting on her turbulent past. There’s an enjoyable breezy, candid style (reminding me a little of Irmgard Keun’s The Artificial-Silk Girl), and our friend is always good enough to provide trigger warnings for the more delicate reader:
Je veux dire, et j’invite toutes les âmes sensibles à sauter cette page par respect pour elles-mêmes, je veux dire que mes clients avaient de drôles d’envies, des idées tout à fait contre nature si vous voyez ce que je veux dire. (p.36)
I mean, and I invite any sensitive souls to skip this page for their own good, I mean that my clients had some unusual desires, ideas running contrary to the course of nature if you know what I mean. ***
Of course, there’s little danger of anyone doing that as the more graphic scenes are usually couched in metaphor or circumlocution (and, of course, it’s all too interesting to look away!).
Whether you treat it as a social satire, a modern fairy tale or a bizarre take on a Bildungsroman, Truismes is unlikely to disappoint. I’m certainly glad I went rummaging through my shelves to see what I could dig up for #WITMonth, and I’m sure many of you would enjoy this one, too – if you haven’t already. It’s a metamorphosis of a pinker kind, a book that explores what kind of life really makes us happy. The surprising answer is slightly Voltairean in its insistence that il faut cultiver notre jardin. Yes, it’s high time to take a step back and smell the flowers – or eat them, if you prefer 😉