A kingdom of otherness
“Are words alive? I believe it is the writer’s job to make them so and this seems to require she cultivate an intimate relationship with words, a very personal, singular connection to the sounds, feelings and meanings they convey. We are always running the risk that language will flatten our experience or become a prison in which the terms of our experience are decided for us, codified or just watered down to blandness. It takes but a brief perusal of the dictionary to see the patriarchal bias of language and as an antidote to this, I enjoy sleight of word, making meaning slippery and multiple by plucking at the polyphonic chords of language.
“Whenever we play on and accentuate the polysemy of words, we are shaking the foundations of the predominant signifying order that wants meaning just one way. When I write, I want words to surprise and jolt me from my complacency; it’s my hope they’ll shift me into new perspectives and relationships with the world. This is always an aesthetic experience.
“In writing Remedy, I decided to take a little joy ride through the discourses of fashion and Catholic piety. I tinkered with the pious jargon till its wooden quality became malleable like silly putty that could be stretched the length of the novel. Remedy’s conversation with the saints verges on the wacky, but this apparent silliness has its serious edge: the linguistic play means to resuscitate and restore what is spiritual and alive in language. In befriending the ‘holies’ (and fashion icons) my character rescues them from religiosity (or vapid fashionese.) Remedy is playing at being Catholic and she is also a devout Catholic, her every act of reverence is irreverent. How can this be? Or rather, as I see it, how can this not be? Metaphor works in just this way, by pairing unrelated or opposing terms to create a new language lens for apprehending the world. Metaphor is a container of contradiction. Remedy, like her name suggests, sets out to remedy and realign her Parisian world by embracing disparate elements – the omnipresent Catholic saints and her sex cravings, for example – as pleasurable paradoxes. She invents a lexicon to describe the people and situations she encounters: French co-workers are ‘spoons’, aristocrats ‘crusts’ etc. In a sense, Remedy invests words with talismanic properties; they protect against the encroaching estrangement she feels and allow her to knit relationships between herself and the multiple worlds she inhabits. When words come to life, they trick us into a connection with a more generous capacity of perception and knowing.Read More
When her French composer-husband brings a few co-workers home from the Paris carwash where he is working to earn some money, Jane de la Rochefoucault gets the feeling that something odd is about to happen. When these co-workers steal a secret prototype car to fund a rescue plan for members of their Muslim brotherhood being held hostage, Jane’s mother-in-law hides them in her chateau while they work their plans—and Jane is embroiled in an adventure that will put her family in a bit of a predicament. Little does she know that her own famiglia connections will help save the day.
Anne Marsella’s novel combines the trials and tribulations of first-time motherhood, culture clashes, and marriage with an international crime caper. Mafia uncles, upper-crust communists, absent-minded avant-garde composers, and feminist academics are just some of the wonderful characters she has created to enliven her tale of raising a baby in Belleville, a multicultural, mainly immigrant section of Paris.
While the plot features some imaginative flights of fancy, there are wonderfully real depictions of events and issues that many mothers will recognize: concerns about whether or not to breastfeed, balancing work and family, setting up your home with limited income, and learning how to fit into life in a foreign country all come up in both serious and hilarious situations.
Recently Read: Anne Marsella’s The Baby of Belleville
In Anne Marsella’s* warm and funny The Baby of Belleville, hierarchy is put to rest, making room for an all-inclusive Paris, a Paris where equal time is given to French feminist philosophers, aristocrats, plumbers, DJs, shepherdesses and kung fu experts. Here, you’ll see Paris at an oblique angle.And yet at the same time her stories seem uncanny in their familiarity, as stories of love and motherhood often are.
What I really like about her books (I also recommend her novel Remedy, where the protagonist works in the fashion world), are her unusual heroines. Intelligent, good-in-their-skin but still self-doubting. Never doubting, however, their bodies. Marsella writes women who take belly dancing lessons without self deprecation: an antidote to chick lit. Her protagonists also have an uncanny ability to read the needs of other humans, and especially artists. In The Baby of Belleville, the protagonist Jane hires a plumber who turns out to be a talented creator. He makes a fantastical, mosaic toilet for her, asking 200 euros for his work. As Jane retrieves the money she feels tears coming on, “The truth was, I was being pulled by two contrasting emotions – the tragedy of spending two hundred euros on a toilet and the unforgivable slight of paying an artist so little for so much.” She sends him home with some Tupperware filled with osso bucco and risotto, remarking that “artists love to be fed Tupperware dinners, homemade meals they could heat up at their convenience, thus avoiding the creative drain of dinner socializing.” (123)Read More