MacLehose Press, £18.99

Three Strong Women, By Marie NDiaye trans. John Fletcher

This novel by the first black woman to win France's Prix Goncourt exerts a hypnotic allure.

This isn't really a novel about three strong women because, out of the three protagonists, one seems delusional, one a victim of circumstance, and the other a deranged man. The novel's tripartite structure, which appears to be three short stories with a tenuous link, charts their personal hell. The first is Norah, a mixed-race French-Senegalese woman reluctantly returning to visit her despised elderly father in Senegal.

Marie NDiaye soon establishes herself as a writer who dissects her characters with impressive forensic detail, the subtlest speech inflection or gesture put under the microscope. Norah's problems lie not only with her father but also with her husband, brother – and her own sanity. As the story unravels, so does her mind.

Next comes Rudy, a paranoid, enraged, jealous, dangerously irrational Frenchman married to a Senegalese woman, Fanta, who has had enough of him. This is his story, not hers, as we witness his crazy behaviour. The last story is Khady's, a young Senegalese widow so hard done by you want to smuggle her into Britain and book her into an extended stay at Champneys. Her tale of cruelty, extreme hardship, exploitation and despair treads the more predictable ground of recent fiction about Africa.

The novel is in the fashionable style of the discontinuous narrative, the plot, as such, embedded in a scramble of thoughts, feelings, scenes, memories and time-shifts, sometimes resembling stream-of-consciousness and eschewing the closure of more traditional endings. But if you're prepared to abandon the strictures of convention, it's a great read. While the "non-ending-endings" strategy might risk being dissatisfying, it forces a deeper intellectual engagement. In the absence of answers, we reflect on what we've read, and because we don't know what happens to the characters, they linger in the mind – especially Rudy, whose hectic interiority is so compelling.

The novel explores the mutability and unreliability of memory and truth. All the protagonists have damaged histories. Norah blames her father for ruining the lives of his children, but do we trust her version of reality? Rudy's state of mind seems to stem from a childhood trauma, but he is too steeped in self-pity to elicit sympathy. Khady is the victim of the politics of gender and poverty. Her one act of resistance fails.

The first few pages of the translation by John Fletcher read awkwardly but, after that, the prose flies. At times the language has an hypnotic emotional intensity and, although it's sometimes overwritten, verbosity becomes part of its charm. NDiaye was the first black woman to win the Prix Goncourt in 2009: the French equivalent of the Man Booker. I can see why. The novel has a passion, daring and individuality that makes it stand out.

Bernardine Evaristo's 'Blonde Roots' is published by Penguin

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'