A French actress living in Los Angeles falls hard for a Cameroon-born actor whose obsession with directing a film adaptation of Heart of Darkness leads them both to his home country.
Readers looking for a feminist hero probably won’t find her in Solange, the white film actress at the center of Darrieussecq’s (All the Way, 2013, etc.) exploration of race, celebrity, and (mostly) unreciprocated love. Solange is instantly smitten when, at a party thrown by her friend George (as in Clooney, surname implied), she sees Kouhouesso, whose mere presence reduces her to “to silence and solitude. Soon she's sleeping with this handsome, self-serious man, whose “big idea”—a film version of Heart of Darkness, shot in Africa—will always, it’s clear from the start, be his first priority. Kouhouesso will disappear for days in between their encounters, texting occasionally but generally aloof. And so it goes: he works, she waits, and though their relationship turns more serious, it never really evolves. As a commentary on race, Darrieussecq’s novel doesn’t always break new ground (“Up until now she had scarcely thought about Africa, other than to send off a cheque”). As a chronicle of the humiliations and occasional joys of loving someone whose own feelings are more ambiguous, though, it feels queasily accurate. The story works especially well once the narrative shifts to Cameroon, where the details of the film shoot, from an ill-fated attempt to get a group of Pygmy girls to perform for the camera to various prop and costume setbacks, add some real comic edge to the proceedings.
A sometimes biting, often sharply observed take on a relationship one would surely rather read about than be part of.