Review: Men

9 May 2016

I picked up Men by Marie Darrieussecq (translated by Penny Hueston) because the blurb proclaimed it to be an exploration of ‘female desire’. I was expecting irony. I was disappointed. In French, the title is Il faut beaucoup aimer les homes, which translates to something like ‘we have to love men a lot’ and is taken from a Marguerite Duras quote: ‘We have to love men a lot. A lot, a lot. Love them a lot in order to love them. Otherwise it’s impossible, we couldn’t bear them.’ I don’t know why but this gave me the impression that maybe Darrieussecq had something valuable to say about relationships between men and women. Alas.

The story centres on Solange, a French B-list actress trying to make it in Hollywood. Solange falls madly in love with Kouhouesso, a black actor who she meets at a party. Kouhouesso is determined to make Conrad Joseph’s Heart of Darkness into a film and much of the story is dedicated to following his attempts to do so in the Congo. The rest is a constant re-iteration of Solange’s entirely baseless love for Kouhouesso, with the occasional comment on race.

Solange is an insipid and frustrating protagonist, and her constant soliloquising as to how much she doesn’t know and how much K can teach her grates on the nerves. As a female reader, Solange’s over-done intellectual inferiority was particularly offensive. Kouhouesso, for his part, is entirely unbelievable as a love-interest and is almost as two-dimensional as Solange. Their relationship is built on Kouhouesso’s late night booty calls, which also double as lectures (there is, after all, a lot that Solange needs to learn) and very little else. Darrieussecq does not comment on the absurdity and abject misogyny of this ‘relationship’.

Further, the potential plot suggested by Solange’s and Kouhouesso’s interracial relationship (the apparent strangeness of which Darrieussecq seems to be at pains to emphasise), is left entirely unexplored, begging the question ‘why?’ In fact Darrieussecq’s handling of this issue is so clumsy that it borders on insensitive. Her comments are added as after thoughts or as part of K’s lecturing and Solange herself occasionally has inexplicably racist thoughts. Any comment on racism that Darrieussecq is trying to make seems lost in translation and reading them feels kind of like listening to a friend make racist jokes but tell you it’s okay because they know a black guy.

A dissatisfying read.

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