“He had made love to her so well that she hated him”: a steamy Belgian bestseller makes its way across the pond.
Buttocks, breasts, orgasms, parakeets; life isn’t all chocolate and roses on the Place d’Arezzo, but it’s not too bad, either, especially if you’re Zachary Bidermann, who, by virtue of being “a trained economist,” has climbed the ladder all the way up to the more ethereal elevations of the European Union. He also enjoys a priapic second career, though not indiscriminately; he would never dream, say, of entangling himself with his secretary, Madame Singer, who, à la a certain presidential candidate, wears “a tight navy blue pantsuit” and a thin smile. Madame Singer may be shapeless and humorless, but she knows a thing or two about the world. So does M. de Couvigne, a prominent banker who, among other things, is called to explain to a young son that certain men enjoy kissing each other as “a mommy and daddy do,” then is delighted when the kid reacts with revulsion at the thought. Of course, kids find kissing pretty icky anyway, but no matter; just about everyone in this book, the first full-length novel by Schmitt (Three Women in a Mirror, 2013, etc.) to appear in English, is pretty icky, too, man and woman and bird alike. (Yes, bird.) The story picks up when news of Zachary’s epic thrusting gets out, and suddenly he’s seen not as a charming Casanova but instead as the creepy kin of Dominique Strauss-Kahn: “While your own wife was just a few yards away, throwing a party in your honor, you forced yourself on a poor woman!” shouts a colleague, to which Zachary merely shrugs. The takedown, hundreds of pages in the coming, so to speak, is well-deserved. Still, Schmitt’s novel too often verges on high-minded smut; at those points, it’s a Jacqueline Susann yarn with fewer drugs and better furniture. Birds, too.
Middling literary erotica: not quite Kundera but raw enough to satisfy a curious teenager.