Title: Apocalypse Baby (Goodreads)
Author: Virginie Despentes
Translator: Siân Reynolds
Published: Serpent's Tail, 2010
My Copy: Library Book
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Provocative French author Virginie Despentes is best known for her debut novel Baise-moi, which was published in 1993 to much controversy. The book was adapted into a film, which was also written and directed by Despentes. This debut novel is often considered the most controversial French novel of recent times, exploring a punk fantasy of two women on a vengeance rampage à la Thelma and Louise. The novel and film are modern examples of a crime thriller genre known as rape and revenge.
Virginie Despentes has had a salacious life, which ranges from working as a maid/sex worker in ‘massage parlours’ to being a pornographic film critic. As a novelist she has written seven novels of transgressive fiction, although only three have been translated into English. Her latest novel Apocalypse Baby (Apocalypse Bébé) was published in English by Feminist Press in 2015. The book is a faced-paced thriller about a missing adolescent girl. Two mismatched private investigators are paired together to find this lost girl. The two follow the evidence from Paris to Barcelona and back on this epic road trip.
Lucie Toledo is not a great private investigator, her skills typically include watching over her clients, but when the troublesome fifteen-year-old Valentine disappears she is out of her league. Tasked to watch the girl by her grandmother, Lucie is held responsible. She enlists the help of the legendary detective, known as The Hyena to help with this missing person case. The Hyena is a sexist, misogynist; constantly wolf whistling at female pedestrians and grabbing their crotches. Two very different personalities stuck in a car propels the novel towards the inevitable conflict.
Apocalypse Baby is an unflinching thriller that never shies away from graphic descriptions. Though not without its flaws, the novel offers so much more than a psychological romp. Virginie Despentes uses this transgressive story as a platform for social criticism, exploring French politics and society. Between each chapter, there lies a glimpse at different members of Valentine’s family, exploring their own struggles and fears. Her father, step mother, and two sisters are all fleshed out in these sections; not taking away from the novel but rather giving an extra dimension and providing a deeper understanding on Valentine’s motivation.
What really stuck with me in Apocalypse Baby was the way it played with the idea of gender equality. Take for example the misogynist partner The Hyena, when you think about this character, did you envision a woman? I found myself constantly thinking “You are a woman, you should know better” but then I stop myself, a man should know better as well. I like the way Virginie Despentes used this idea as a tool to explore social issues. While this novel is nothing special, this one aspect really stuck with me and I appreciate just how masterfully Despentes made her point.