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Week in Review: August 17, 2018

by Shannon Sullivan

New This Week: Pretty Things

Critically acclaimed and ever-provocative author Virginie Despentes’ 1998 Prix de Flore- and Prix Saint-Valentin-winning novel Pretty Things was published in English translation this week from Feminist Press. Translated by Emma Ramadan, Pretty Things tells the story of twins Pauline and Claudine, who have been pitted against each other by their parents since childhood. Beautiful Claudine convinces gloomy Pauline to use her angelic voice to pretend they are the same person, but when Claudine commits suicide, Pauline slips into her sister’s life, slowly realizing that womanhood is what ultimately killed her sister. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, calling it “chilling and wonderful.” Want to learn more? Read excerpts from Pretty Things here and here.

The Final “Final Foucault”

Following the unprecedented publication of Foucault’s fourth volume of History of Sexuality, Les aveux de la chair (Confessions of the Flesh) in France earlier this year, Joseph Tanke looked at the book’s impact for the Los Angeles Review of Books. The tome follows a departure from Foucault’s plan for the series as outlined in the first book of the collection, notably looking at religion and the Christian experience of the flesh. Tanke traces the evolution of Foucault’s project, highlighting the important distinction between sex and sexuality and pointing out the recurring theme of confession as a “deeply rooted technology of power with wide-ranging consequences for the production of subjectivity.” He further touches on the idea of a “Final Foucault,” distinguishing the last eight years of the philosopher’s work from his earlier writings.

Mabanckou’s “Sharply Provocative” Food for Thought

Author Alain Mabanckou’s essay collection The Tears of the Black Man, translated from the French by Dominic Thomas and released last month from Indiana University Press, was reviewed by both Complete Review and Publishers Weekly. The book reshapes notions of black identity, arguing that today, “identity goes far beyond notions of territory or blood.” Each chapter is titled after a French book, often taking inspiration from them; books referenced include Yambo Ouologuem’s Bound to Violence, Michel Leiris’ Phantom Africa, and Ahmadou Kourouma’s The Suns of Independence. The author’s “challenging perspective” is “as enlightening as it is provocative,” mixing personal experience with theoretical discussion. Mabanckou’s Black Moses (The New Press, translated by Helen Stevenson) was shortlisted for the 2018 Albertine Prize.

Nothomb’s Latest is “Nimble” and “Life-full”

Complete Review published a review of Amélie Nothomb’s Strike Your Heart, calling it an “enjoyable, satisfying read.” Beginning from the point of view of teenager Marie, Strike Your Heart spins a tale of jealousy and heartache, but Nothomb “doesn’t settle on simple dynamics”; the perspective soon shifts to that of the real protagonist, Marie’s daughter, Diane. An intelligent young girl, Diane recognizes her mother’s coldness, understanding that Marie is jealous of all of the attention she gets. A “dynamic, rich novel,” Strike Your Heart sees Diane constantly re-establishing herself, and finally the pieces come into place as she welcomes her future with open arms. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, the book will be published from Europa Editions on September 11.

Hemingway’s Unpublished Ode to Paris

If you’ve read A Moveable Feast, you know how important Paris was to Ernest Hemingway. The city figures in one of his previously unpublished short stories about World War II, now printed for the first time in The Strand Magazine. Written in 1956, “A Room on the Garden Side” is undoubtedly semi-autobiographical: the main character, Robert, is nicknamed “Papa,” like the author himself; the titular room is at the Ritz, the luxury Paris hotel that Hemingway revered; and one of the story’s themes is the worry that literary celebrity may corrupt an author’s integrity, something that plagued Hemingway near the end of his life. What it captures more than anything else, though, is the significance of Paris; after all, “there is never any ending to Paris.”