Elle – Philippe Djian

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“It’s this other me coming out, though I fight it tooth and nail. It’s a me that invites confusion, flux, unexplored territories. I don’t know. I can’t screw open my head and take a look inside.”

Michèle can’t always understand her feelings and actions. In her late forties, and co-owner of a successful production company, she has been in turmoil since she was a teenager. Her father who was labeled “Monster of the Aquitaine” is rotting in jail for committing horrendous crimes.

“That fear of being unmasked, that we might be recognized and forced to face all those deaths, all that injustice, all that insanity. Thirty years later that fear is still just as tenacious, just as penetrating.”

Though they were ostracized, and Michèle bullied, her mother cannot acknowledge all of the hurt this man cause them and urges Michèle to visit her father in jail. Of course, she refuses.

Though she seems somewhat emotionally balanced by preserving this hatred and scratching him from her life, other parts of her life are in total chaos. She can’t deal with the fact that her ex-husband, whom she left, found another woman. She also can’t get over that her son is in love with a pregnant girl.

Michèle is also having an affair with her business partner/ best friend’s husband and is infatuated with a married neighbor. Add to that, she was recently raped.

I don’t mean to sound nonchalant about the assault, but her detachment is a major part of the plot. This is how she survives. Through all of this she refuses to be a victim, but also maintains a disconnection to the emotions and well-being of others.

Part thriller, part psychological drama with dark humor woven in and out, Elle is a mesmerizing work of contemporary French literature. The story is told from Michèle’s perspective and it keeps us entangled in the life of a woman we may not particularly like.

That said, Elle is not really a character study; there’s also a strong plot. There are enough twists to keep the reader anxiously anticipating what will happen next. The tension keeps building and I couldn’t put the book down.

Elle is a unique read for those who are searching for something different.

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