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Marie Darrieussecq: Naissance des fantômes (My Phantom Husband)

Following on from Truismes (Pig Tales), Darrieussecq brings us another story of a woman whose hold on reality is open to doubt. The nameless heroine’s nameless husband goes out one evening to buy some bread and never returns. She is naturally very concerned and expects everyone else to be concerned – the baker where her husband might have bought the bread, even the evening news. Her immediate circle – which seems to consist purely of her mother, her mother-in-law and her friend, Jacqueline – is concerned but in different ways. Her mother is more interested in her own future plans (which include leaving the country) while her evanescent mother-in-law seems more interested in suffering alone. Only Jacqueline urges action but even she seems more interested in doing something rather than actually finding the disappeared husband.

However, what makes this book interesting and unlike a standard disappearance is the fact that Darrieussecq gradually and subtly indicates that the reality of the husband might not be as straightforward as we think. This is not to say that Darrieussecq is implying that the husband is a figment of his wife’s imagination but, rather, that he is rather like Schrödinger’s Cat – he is and he isn’t at the same time. This is implied in her reminiscences of their life together where the husband seems only semi-real (even in their wedding pictures, his form is blurred or concealed) but becomes more stated when the husband twice reappears near the end – first at a party the narrator’s mother is giving just prior to her departure where he is seen by both the narrator and her mother-in-law, though neither is able to touch him and then, later, when the narrator again sees his ghostly form on her own but is again unable to touch him. Is he real? Yes and no. Darrieussecq is telling us clearly that reality is not black and white but that the line between the real and unreal is blurred and confused, just like Schrödingers’s Cat.

Publishing history

First published in French 1998 by P.O.L
First published in English 1997 by Faber & Faber/New Press
Translated by Helen Stevenson