Paperbacks

My Phantom Husband by Marie Darrieussecq Faber, £6.99, 152pp
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

My Phantom Husband: French novelist Marie Darrieusseccq shot to literary stardom with Pig Tales, a futuristic fable about a beautician who turns into a pig. Her second novel is also about metamorphosis, but of a more spiritual kind.

My Phantom Husband: French novelist Marie Darrieusseccq shot to literary stardom with Pig Tales, a futuristic fable about a beautician who turns into a pig. Her second novel is also about metamorphosis, but of a more spiritual kind.

When her husband disappears while shopping for a baguette, the novel's narrator, a young housewife, is faced with an endless wait. As her days and nights merge into a nightmarish continuum of anxiety and feverish imaginings, it becomes apparent that she has not only lost her husband, but her marbles too.

Set almost entirely inside the young woman's head, the early sections of the novel are compelling. Retracing her husband's route to the boulangerie, scouring her wedding photographs for clues about her marriage, she's more rocked by her partner's disappearance than by any passion she might once have felt for him. It's only when she embarks on an intimate deconstruction of her interior life - and starts to feel at one with the skirting board and carpet fluff - that her monologue takes a more claustrophobic turn.

The world beyond her balcony is no less treacherous. In a nameless French city, populated by an underclass with blue-tinted skin, there's dissent in the air. On a trip down to the beach for a cigarette, our already shaky narrator gets caught in the path of an exploding sea lion.

The more powerful parts of Darrieussecq's unsettling, inconclusive novel are swallowed up by a lack of narrative drive that ultimately leaves its heroine cut adrift. Not that the French seem to care. But then they understand existentialism rather better than us more literal-minded Brits. EH

Eclipse: A year after the eclipse, the paperback edition of Steel's exploration of celestial shadows limps into print. Though full of interest - did you know that Columbus used an eclipse to get out of a pickle, just as Twain's hero did in A Connecticut Yankee? - it is hard to overcome the sense of deja vu. In this updated text, Steel reports that his view of last summer's penumbra was itself eclipsed by clouds over Cornwall ("tremendous fun overall"). Never mind, another one is due here on 23 September 2090, or you could go to the Faeroes in 2015.

The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie: Osborne's deft survey of Christie's oeuvre will delight her fans. Though staunchly defensive of crime's grande dame (" The Mousetrap is... ingenious, entertaining"), Osborne retains his critical objectivity, noting that Poirot's Belgian education must have "included a course in old English nursery rhymes", applied in Five Little Pigs etc. Her biographical details are less illuminating, but it is gratifying to learn that, during her mysterious disappearance in Harrogate, she danced the Charleston to "Yes, We Have No Bananas".

Comments