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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week