As relevant now as when it was first published in French in 1998, this novel shreds the feminine ideal to pieces.
When Claudine and Pauline were children, their father openly preferred Pauline, who was “cunning, mischievous, and so sharp.” Claudine, on the other hand, “was not very clever, frankly, not very smart.” All grown up, the twins can’t stand each other. Claudine lives a promiscuous life in Paris; Pauline lives outside the city, wears shapeless, baggy clothes, and waits for her boyfriend, Sébastien, to be released from prison (for crimes unknown). One day, Claudine calls with a request: She wants to be a pop star, and she’s got the clothes, the body, and the attitude; all she needs is for Pauline to come and sing for her. Pauline does, but, what’s more surprising is, that same night, Claudine hops out a window, dies, and Pauline decides to step into her place, permanently. She’ll wear Claudine’s clothes, her makeup, and heels, and she’ll go through with the plan: record an album, make a ton of money. This is where Despentes’ (Vernon Subutex 1, 2017, etc.) novel really gets going. Despentes is a French writer, critic, and noted feminist, and this novel shows her at her best: It is a mean little book, wickedly funny, totally lascivious, often pornographic. Despite the bits about their childhood, Despentes isn’t really interested in Claudine’s and Pauline’s psychology. She’s interested in the way that Pauline steps into Claudine’s role the way that a drag queen steps into a costume. Unfortunately, the book suffers from the kind of flatness that afflicts all ideological fiction, no matter how expertly constructed. It works best when Despentes isn’t trying to make a point.
A sharp, screwy, messy take on modern femininity.