By Violette Leduc
Dalkey Archive, 488 pp.
In the annals of feminist lit, Leduc’s the crazy aunt sequestered in the back room, sans the attending romanticism. The reissue of La Bâtarde (1965) is unlikely to change that image; it’s one of the most excoriating memoirs I’ve ever read, of life as (in mentor Simone de Beauvoir’s words) “the Ugly Woman.” Possessed of a “carnival nose,” Leduc nevertheless moved the hearts of women and men, disposing of them all badly and sadly. “I shall be the anvil on which I forge my own sorrow,” she said as a girl, and carried the notion through a laundry list of private griefs (failed marriage, abortion, botched rhinoplasty). She renders in inescapably poetic style what it means to live without appeal—something between Rimbaud’s Hell and a high-toned Behind the Music.
PILLOW TALK IN EUROPE AND OTHER PLACES
By Deborah Levy
Dalkey Archive, 103 pp.
The stories in Levy’s second collection are less dramatic, but perhaps more bracing, emerging as casual epiphanies and minor tragedies. In “The Way She Walked,” Levy, who wrote the intro to La Bâtarde, supplants the independent-woman mantra with one of her own: “Love is difficult but it’s the best way of being in the world.” Motherhood is OK too. And need. It’s the kind of inclusive feminism that Leduc would understand—and inevitably reject.