Virginie Despentes’s ‘90s feminist punk pulp fiction makes for the best summer reading—all of her sparkling rage goes incandescent in the sunshine with a glass of something effervescent. Luckily, Feminist Press will be publishing Pretty Things (translated by Emma Ramadan) on August 14th. First published in France in 1998, it’s the story two identical twins: Claudine, the hyper-sexualized man-eating “pretty one,” and Pauline, the bitter reclusive “smart one,” who dresses in baggy sweaters and has never before shaved her legs. Beyond a body, the only thing the sisters seem to share is an explosive anger at men and a complete disdain for each other. When Pauline decides to impersonate Claudine, she pulls on the trappings of femininity like a heavy high camp drag routine, taking shaky steps through Paris’s 18th arrondissement in Claudine’s high heels.
She never thought it was possible to go out like that without someone shouting, “Where’s the costume party?” Her appearance, legs on display, silhouette transformed. And no one realizes that she’s not at all like that. For the first time she understands: No girl is like that.
It’s pulp in every sense: propulsively readable, violent, sexy, with all the satisfaction of an inevitable ending. And yet it’s also a feminist parable, blunt and unrelenting in its wrath, and it feels as fresh now as it would have ten years ago. Despentes—who is also a cultural critic and filmmaker—was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International for Vernon Subutex, which will be coming out from FSG this fall. If you haven’t read her yet, it’s time to start at the beginning. —Nadja Spiegelman