Redemption

Chantal Chawaf, Author, Monique F. Nagem, Translator
Chantal Chawaf, Author, Monique F. Nagem, Translator Dalkey Archive Press $19.95 (97p) ISBN 978-1-56478-003-4
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Although French feminist Chawaf's ( Mother Love, Mother Earth ) work has been lauded in her native country, the appeal of her second novel doesn't translate. In a familiar Gallic strategy, it tells a story on one level and sets forth a densely self-referential philosophy of literature on another. Wandering through the Alps, artist Charles de Roquemont is tortured by recollections of Esther, the American lover he murdered several years earlier, prompted by rage that her memory still evokes. In Paris, he meets Olga Vassilieff, a screenwriter afflicted with frenzied, metaphysical writer's block as she tries in vain to create a script that will replicate the feeling of orgasm. The author devotes less attention to her improbable story than to her literary theory, a weak cocktail mixed from such academically au courant ingredients as dematerialization and the equation of speech with sexual violence. Her awkward attempts to blend the novel's two elements seem more ridiculous than provocative, as her cardboard characters rave about language, sex, art and murder while sitting on a park bench or pausing in flagrante . A stiffly literal-sounding translation doesn't help. The effect is finally that of the Marx Brothers rewriting Bataille's The Story of the Eye . (Sept.)
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