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[personal profile] sovay mentioned liking one of Ducornet's novels, so I got a book of hers out of the library. This is a collection of short stories themed around the concept of desire, specifically erotic desire, though she does not always define either word in the traditional manner.

This book does something very interesting, and I'm not quite certain whether it works for me: for every single one of these stories' protagonists, the self and the object of desire are the only things that are real, and the object of desire is very consciously the Other. Which is to say, the protagonists are prosaic and people and have to cut their toenails and so on, and everything else is exoticized as hell. I noticed this because there was a story that was set in India, and I was starting to growl at the way it was all-surface India, all of these huge bright cliches and a white guy at the center looking for weirdness, and then I realized that the story wasn't doing anything any different from the previous ones, which had done identical lacquered not-seeing-the-real-thing versions of the south of France and the interior of a marriage and, in one case, the protagonist's niece. I think the author is making the point that people who are blinded by what they are looking for are going to seize the things they consider exotic and make those things into part of what they're looking for, but, hmm, it would have been nice to get more of an outside deflatory perspective sometimes on those things the protagonists consider exotic about which there are already active cultural exoticizing narratives.

Mind you, sometimes there are, one of my favorite moments in this entire book is when one protagonist's father announces that he is going to go to Ethiopia, convert the natives to evangelical Christianity, and build a factory that makes carbonated coffee, and the protagonist's mother laughs so hard she has trouble seeing the divorce papers as she signs them and refers to him for the rest of the story as 'that idiot'. I appreciated that moment. Could maybe have done with a bit more of that.

But the point of it all is the way desire can cheat itself and the way it can Other, so I think this is a valid form. And it's beautifully done, ridiculously pretty prose that usually stays the right side of purple and a redeeming thread of total vulgarity, the baroque and Gothic tinsel layered over whatever particular madness the narrator not necessarily expresses, but is. It's complicated, multivalent, structure-heavy, surprisingly easy-to-read work and I enjoyed it immensely; it is not the sort of book I come away from wondering whether it is any good, but rather embroiled in a long and complex argument as to whether I agree with it in any direction, and if so which one. (Probably I don't. But it's an interesting argument.)

And, unusually for a short story collection, there are here no stories I point at as particularly better or worse than the others, though the title story may have been just a shade weaker. It's very consistent in what it is doing. Ducornet is a writer I will certainly read more by, especially as in terms of sheer liking it's one of the more congenial things I've read so far (your mileage may, of course, vary).


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March 2017

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