Pig of the week comes as a book review this week. Marie Darrieussecq’s Truismes, translated into English as Pig Tales, is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
The heroine-narrator has a dubious job working for a perfume company, where she has sex with clients in the guise of selling them expensive perfumes. As she begins to put on weight, she notices her popularity rising with her clients: they love her ‘healthy’ look and rosy pink skin. Meanwhile our heroine finds she can no longer stand the taste of ham sandwiches but finds herself craving raw potatoes. She is turning slowly into a pig. Gradually this dawns on her – she starts to prefer being on all fours to walking upright, instead of having a human menstrual cycle she has periods of being in heat, and she starts to grow bristles on her back and extra nipples.
At the same time the political situation in France becomes increasingly crazy, a spiritual-fascistic dictator takes power and adopts the narrator as the face of his campaign: ‘Pour un monde plus sain!’ His drastic measures to clean Paris of the ‘unhealthy’ result in him losing interest in our heroine who finds herself living in the sewers, where she gives birth to a litter of dead piglets.
She is stil in a state of flux, switching between human and sow, when she meets a werewolf with whom she finds, temporarily, happiness: they shack up together in connubial bliss, surviving on takeaway pizza – she eats the pizza and he the delivery boy. Eventually the situation becomes unworkable as his wolfish needs overcome his love for his companion. The sow escapes to her mother’s home in the countryside where she gives in to her piggish side, finding peace in the woodlands eating acorns and making friends with ‘un sanglier très beau et très viril’.
Truismes is wonderful as a satirical take on our ideas of nature, femininity, bestiality (in the sense of becoming a beast) and sex. The passages about the erotics of the pig are brilliant: the way men go crazy for the piggy fatness and pinkness is very funny and good. ‘Dans les miroirs je me trouvais belle, un peu rouge certes, un peu boudinée, mais sauvage, je ne sais pas comment dire. Il y avait comme de la fierté dans mes yeux et dans mon corps. Quand je me relevais le client avait lui aussi les yeux tout dénoués. On se serait cru dans le jungle.’
The contrast between the tolerant, matter-of-fact tone of the narrator and the crazy turmoil both within her own body and in the world around her gives the novel its bizarre edge: although she’s appalled by the changes to her own body, she embraces the pleasures of her animal side. By comparison her life as a woman is grotesquely sordid – she is, in fact, treated like an animal by almost everyone she comes into contact with. The writing about her moments as a pig is wonderfully evocative: the damp, woodlandy smells of the country, heightened by her pig senses, and the satisfaction of living off roots and acorns are positively enticing. In becoming a pig she finds more identity than she ever had as a woman in a society which dehumanises its own.