A prizewining French bestseller tells of a woman obsessed with one man. It’s framed within her story of a woman’s obsession with men in general. Or maybe it’s vice versa.
Laurens’s sixth outing (though first to appear in English) twists the novel-within-a-novel structure in such a way that we’re not sure which scenes are the fictional creation of the narrator—also named Camille—and which are the narrator’s “real” life. Not that the distinction matters much. All the scenes are about the men--real, fictional, or abstract—in the Camilles’ lives and imaginations. At the start, Camille sees a man in a restaurant and decides he is The One, so she follows him to his office and, when she realizes he’s a therapist, begins to see him as a patient supposedly in need of marriage counseling. At the same time, Camille meets with a male editor to discuss her novel about the men in a fictional Camille’s life. The scenes that follow are a mix of first- and third-person, all describing Camille’s men. There are her distant and rather sad father, her beloved maternal grandfather, her molesting great-uncle, her first love, her teacher, and the husband with whom she has known great passion but is now bound only as the father of her daughters. There are lovers and anonymous sexual liaisons. There are men she only imagines, and men who represent their gender. There are absent men, particularly the son who died in infancy. There is the man she imagines reading her book. With dry wit and wordplay (“. . . all men are taken. But with some, there’s give and take,” or “There are forbidden men, men you find forbidding”), the narrator ruminates around all of them. Camille—whichever Camille she is—offers clever commentary but not much depth.
Navel—or, rather, vagina—gazing loaded with literary pretensions.