On Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La femme de Gilles.
It’s probably not unusual to read a novel whose protagonist bears your own name if your name is Jane or Emily or John or Jack, but it’s a neat first for me. What immediate force of recognition! Elisa: a tall, handsome woman, breasts not as high and mighty as they once were, fully vested in domestic life, and holding fast to the hope that domestic life matters, because breasts, like time, go only in one direction. Cry us a river.
But Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s Elisa—the centerpiece of La femme de Gilles, and marginalized from the get-go by its clever title!—is massively betrayed by her cheerfully unrepentant husband on page eight. And Bourdouxhe’s Elisa can’t skip off to an artists’ colony and seek revenge with a neurotic sculptor or hop a train down to the city and buy a new dress and flirt with someone at a party or take her kids to live in an intentional community in Vermont, where she’d discover an affinity for orgies and hallucinogens and spinning pottery (as this Elisa might). She can’t write a think piece about having been betrayed, parlay it into a book deal, and promote it via an Instagram account with a chic, aspirational, rural/industrial French aesthetic. Bourdouxhe’s Elisa—known in her own damn novel as Gilles’ Woman, for God’s sake—has no recourse. No practical recourse, and, worse, no emotional recourse. There’s no precedent for middle-aged feminist reinvention in pre–World War II–era rural/industrial Belgium (that I know of). Read More