SERPENT’S TAIL £10.99 (185pp) £9.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Jealousy: the other life of Cathérine M. By Cathérine Millet trans Helen Stevenson

After the orgies, the sickness of lost love

In The Sexual Life of Cathérine M., the French art critic Cathérine Millet shocked readers in 40 languages with her explicit revelations of years of sexual adventure.

In cool, clinical prose, she performed and exposed the life of the female body, passively and agreeably adaptable to countless, polymorphous encounters. Anyplace, anytime, anyone – there were no limits, short of violence, on a sex life which ranged from anonymous, night-time orgies in the Bois de Boulogne to couplings in carparks to solitary sex, replete with ever more detailed fantasies.

So it comes as something of a surprise to find that this self-styled "suffragette in the cause of libertarianism", this reveller in bodily pleasure, for three long years also suffered from extremes of jealousy. Jealousy presupposes a life of the emotions, an entanglement with that hoary terrain of love, the one absentee from her earlier memoir. Indeed, Millet who has only lived with two full-time partners, has argued it was only because she had love at home that she was freed from having to find it in her other sexual pursuits.

Soon after her mother's suicide, Cathérine comes upon a photograph of a nude woman in her husband Jacques's study, together with a line in his diary implying desire. She is catapulted into "that timeless and universal malady" of jealousy. She can't breathe, her heart and mind race, she is reduced to a pair of snooping eyes, an ignominous detective. Creeping around on all fours, reading letters and diaries, she becomes "the blind architect of my destiny... a small perverted rodent, collecting poisoned food!" Her imagination is overwhelmed with an obsessive need to know.

The pain is such that she suffers from fainting fits. She finds herself banging her head against the wall. Even those anonymised fantasies which long accompanied her solo sex life provide no relief. These have metamorphosed into ones where in abject humiliation she spies on Jacques and his lovers. The rub is that she has no right to carp about his infidelities. It was she who had initiated the libertine regime and long lived it, though her sexual exploits have diminished.

The exhilaration of Millet's perspective is that, in the midst of abasement, she still refuses any traditional conjugal morality. She describes her breakdown with forensic precision, wielding a scalpel of cold intelligence into visceral matter. Yet nowhere is there a call to fidelity from her husband, nor apportioning of blame, nor a recourse to a sense that love must only and forever have a unique object.

This book is an uncomfortable companion piece to her first, providing a psychological narrative to inform the sexual one. The cataclysm of obsessive jealousy takes her to a therapist. After three years of analysis, captured in only a few scenes, the pain lessens and she begins to write her "secret life", at the prodding of a publisher. There is an underlying suggestion, that focussing on the sexual is therapeutic: it is what, her profession life apart, she does best. The writing is reparative.

Though far less scandalous than her first memoir, Jealousy is in many ways a better book. Beautifully translated by Helen Stevenson, shadowed by Proust rather than pornography, it fleshes out an emotional life to confound the bodily one. To make the writerly circle complete, it remains only for Millet to take us into her childhood, the terrain of that mother-become-suicide, absentee father and dead brother whose presences haunt the narrative. The real secrets may be the ones kept even from oneself.

Lisa Appignanesi's 'Mad, Bad and Sad' is published in paperback by Virago

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'