cover image Orlanda


Jacqueline Harpman. Seven Stories Press, $22 (221pp) ISBN 978-1-58322-011-5

A twisting, teasing exploration of sexuality, inner motives and desires, this new work by Belgian novelist and psychoanalyst Harpman (I Who Have Never Known Men), winner of the Prix M dicis, fugues on a body-switching theme in limpid, postmodern prose. On a springtime Friday afternoon in Paris, Aline Berger, a 35-year-old professor of literature, waits for her train home to Brussels, thumbing impatiently through Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Then, abruptly, Orlanda materializes. Called forth by some literary magic, she is Aline's exuberant and adventurous alter ego, born of Aline's 12-year-old tomboy spirit. Fettered far too long by the adult Aline's demure propriety, Orlanda spots a receptive external host in Lucien Lefr ne, a luscious, faintly unsavory, blond 20-year-old youth sitting quietly nearby. Thus begins a labyrinthine ride along converging and diverging paths of sexual and personal identity. Aline and Lucien return to their respective homes and partners in Brussels, but with Orlanda on the loose, life cannot continue as usual. Embodying Orlanda's unleashed appetite for freedom and sex, Lucien sheds responsibilities to family and friends and seeks new excitement with older, wealthy male lovers. While Orlanda gleefully cavorts in Lucien's body, Aline subconsciously senses that something is amiss. It is only when Orlanda/Lucien comes to find her that she understands what has been expunged from her personality. Like lost lovers, Orlanda and Aline are physically separated but emotionally intertwined, each needing the other to survive. Their fumbling progress back toward each other culminates in a disappointingly predictable clash between the double personalities. Still, drawing on wide-ranging literary references from Tristan und Isolde to Proust, Harpman cleverly manipulates an elusive narrative ""I"" and shifting perspectives in cool, insouciant, yet seductive style, to attack the well-worn existentialist query, ""Who am I?"" (Oct.)