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Monday, August 25, 2014

Pig Tales, A Novel of Lust and Transformation by Marie Darrieussecq

Translated from French by Linda Coverdale
Original French edition published in 1996, English translation published 1997

Author:  French; this was author's debut novel, first published at the age of 27.

Setting:  A dystopian Paris of the future.

Characters - As can be seen, the author does not give the female characters names. This is to identify, symbolically, their traditional position in society: weak and powerless.
  • Unidentified female narrator/protagonist  - The narrator converts back and forth between  woman and sow. Her transformations occur primarily when she is brutally treated by the various people that come in and out of her life.  The narrator was neglected and abused by her mother, and fully neglected by her absentee father. As a result, she lacks any sense of self-awareness, self-control, or moral reasoning. Working against her favor, is the fact that she comes from a lower socioeconomic background and remains uneducated. Thus she has little, if any, resources available to her and she never learned how to voice her needs. Having been denied any sense of basic humanity throughout her lifetime, she becomes more comfortable and happier with her animal self, her connection to nature (as a female), and the ease of living away from society. I am not sure if this is meant to be symbolic, or  as a result of her experiences, she has become psychotic. Or both. 
  • Protagonist's mother 
  • Director - Owner of beauty salon, Perfume Plus, where protagonist is first employed, which is really a cover for a prostitution establishment.  
  • Honore'- High school teacher & Narrator's first "love" in story
  • Wealthy African Marabout - client of protagonist's at Beauty Salon
  • Marchepieda - religious fanatic who later becomes the Commander of the Faithful
  • Edgar - politician who later becomes Secretary of Public Morals
  • Yvan - Managing Director of Moonlight Madness; becomes protagonist lover; suffers from lack of will power. Transforms back and forth into a wolf
  • Lesbian woman - client of Protagonist's who is murdered
  • Woman friend of lesbian (murdered woman), and Marabout's friend
  • metamorphosis: the act of becoming a self-willed person. For narrator, an objectified young woman into a self-possessed woman. Or, at least an attempt to do so.
  • self-identity and self-development through conscious will power vs. self-defeat
  • beauty - self image as determined by males and societies current fashions; objectifies females; equated with sexuality; typified through Narrator
  • sexual exploitation- in work and by authority figures
  • violence - emotional, physical and sexual especially, but not limited to authority figures
  • discrimination - misogyny, and against the over-weight or those not deemed beautiful
  • racism - ethnic, xenophobia
  • political corruption: oppression of lower class and females, corruption in business and everyday life
  • flesh
  • lust
  • fertility
  • filth - life style and living environment
  • charcuterie - slaughter
  • nameless women
  • smell, from perfume to filth
  • irony
  • ignorance
  • satiric humor
  • dreams
  • books - knowledge
  • birds - freedom from oppression

p. 74   "This was one good thing about the business, at any rate, sound professional training, and when I think about it, it wasn't a bad career." Humor. Narrator talking about job she just lost at Perfumes Plus (as glorified prostitute).

p. 89    Narrator: "When I saw the piranhas and felt those first bites...I freaked and raced to get out. I didn't know that I still cared that much about life. You could say it woke me up. My neurons fell back into place."  Narrator would have these self-revelations and begin to gain her human physical features back, until another situation distracted or scared her away and she would deteriorate back into a pig.

p. 115   "He sniffed my rear end instead of shaking my hand, but aside from that he couldn't have been nicer, a truly refined man, well dressed and everything." An example of Narrator's naive ignorance and author's humor.

p. 115    "...willpower was the key to holding your own." Yvan to Narrator re: becoming conscious of oneself and the power one held over the self.

p. 127   Narrator: "Rationality is the ruination of mankind, you can take it from me."

p. 130   Satiric humor: "I decided there was no doubt about it:
             home delivery was incredibly convenient." (re: home delivery of pizza for Yvan & Narrator)

p. 143   Narrator: "the musky aroma of my race in a rut" The essence of the Narrator as a lower class,
             uneducated female, and all like her.

My Review

Pig Tales is a wonderful piece of translation literature that reads like a fable. It reveals the animal nature of man and the moral proof that beauty is only skin deep. Political corruption is examined within this context: how we corrupt or are corrupted.

Darrieussecq's imaginative narrative, broadly, examines self-identity via transformation.  She looks at how we are continuously changing and evolving, refining our individual selves, but not always for the good. Her method is both humorous and brutal. The pig, as an edible woman, is a warning of what we can become, especially through ignorance and folly. Likewise, the male conversion as wolf, symbolizes the violent nature of man.

This is an amazing novella seamlessly written from beginning to end. Needless to say, it makes an impression.  It is abstractly narrated as if a Cubist painting - there is much to observe, and from all different angles. Darrieussecq has created a unique and unforgettable work of literature.


  1. Beth - this is the first time I've been here (I think!) and I really like how you set your posts out. Even before I got to your review proper, I already had a real sense of what the book was about. This is such a great way to give an overview :)

    My review: Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq


    Thank you for your input - in 201!. I just set up an email comment notification so I will not miss any notifications in the future. I also opened up my site to allow more viewers despite the fact my original intentions were personal and limited. I have not posted such detailed notes in a while, but may resume to that format at a later date. Thanks again for your insight!