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Marie Darrieussecq: Truismes (Pig Tales)

The French title is a pun that cannot work in English. Truismes means, of course, truisms but it is also a play on the word truie, meaning sow (as in female pig). The heroine of the novel is an attractive woman, trying to make her way in a man’s world. She gets a job in a perfume shop, not least because the manager enjoys fondling her breasts. Her job, and that of her colleagues, is to sell perfume but the shop is not averse to the staff providing extra services to their male clients. Our heroine does her bit with the clients as well as keeping her live-in boyfriend, Honoré, and the manager happy. One day, an African marabout comes to the shop and takes her back to his apartment where he smears her with some sort of ointment. Shortly afterwards she notices changes in her physical appearances. She becomes hairier, she fills out around the rump, she is revolted by meat, particularly ham, and grows extra breasts. In short, she is turning into a pig.

The rest of the book is about her life as a pig. Honoré and the perfume shop soon dump her but, while she remains a pig, she is not short of human company and, it would appear, some men like her porcine appearance. She takes up with Yvan, the former owner of a perfume company who has made money by selling the company and who is now a werewolf. In a very witty part of the novel, they make a habit of moving from apartment to apartment, ordering takeaway pizza. She eats the pizza, while Yvan eats the pizza delivery person. At the same time, we see the rise of Edgar, a right-wing politician with whom she has had some dealings and who seems to be based, at least in part, on Jean Marie Le Pen. She flirts (both politically and sexually) with him but, as a good right-winger, he will have no truck with a pig. But humans are not reliable. They are caught but she manages to get away. Her mother betrays her and pays the price. Humans and pigs just do not seem to mix but pigs are clearly more reliable.

This book is an extremely witty and clever attack on sexism and racism and the differences between people. Our heroine, while becoming pig-like, retains many human qualities, not least of which is language and the power of thought. But there is no doubt that pigs are nicer, kinder animals than humans and that is why, at the end, she hitches up with a virile and good-looking boar.

Publishing history

First published in French 1996 by P.O.L
First published in English 1997 by Faber & Faber/New Press
Translated by Linda Coverdale