Faculty Writing: On Constance Debré’s Novels of Transformation, and Photographs of Women Reading

BISR faculty Christine Smallwood reviewed in Bookforum the chilly, unembellished prose of French writer Constance Debré, whose “novels of transformation,” Playboy and Love Me Tender, shouldn’t deceive for the “simplicity and directness” of their style. In Smallwood’s retelling, when the unnamed narrator confronts the pang of desire which punctures her entrenched boredom, “It’s like she meets Rilke’s torso of Apollo, and, reborn by the curved breast, must change her life.” She leaves her husband to pursue women, then sheds her previous career, appearance, and demeanor, only to discover that she now must navigate the rupture on the other side, where “everything is different, but everything is also the same.” 

Then, in the pages of the Financial Times, we have Smallwood undertaking an unexpected, and unanswerable, correspondence with a series of women captured on film in the act of reading. Smallwood rues, however lightly, that for those who treat literature as a career, the joy of reading often recedes in the pursuit of rigor. Writing to “the lady reading on the couch,” she asks: with that thick book on your lap, “are you having fun?”

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