cover image Pretty Things

Pretty Things

Virginie Despentes, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. Feminist Press, $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-936932-27-6

Despentes, a French author best known stateside for her feminist theory memoir King Kong Theory, delivers a forceful, visceral novel about femininity, violence, and personhood. It opens with Claudine, who is flashy, crude, and ambitious, and is willing to use her beauty and sexuality to achieve fame as a singer. Unfortunately, she has none of the talent to back it up. Enter her contemptuous twin, Pauline, who takes no interest in her appearance and looks like the sensual Claudine—but who has the voice Claudine needs. They have a fraught relationship, stemming from a childhood with abusive parents who introduced and then encouraged division between the two. Pauline’s boyfriend is in jail and her regular life is on hold, and so she has come to Paris. Soon after her arrival, Claudine commits suicide, and Pauline decides to lie about her identity, slipping into her sister’s life. What follows is a downward slide into the trap of femininity and beauty, which Pauline has rejected for as long as her sister has embraced it. As she falls further into her ruse, Pauline thinks, “I would have preferred not to know what I really am,” but perhaps who she becomes is less a reflection of her than it is of the male desires that have shaped her. Despentes’s novel is chilling and wonderful, coolly presenting the raw, jagged edge of womanhood. (Aug.)