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Latest Review: "Thérèse and Isabelle" by Violette Leduc

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Kaija Straumanis on Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc, translated by Sophie Lewis and published by Feminist Press.

Here’s the beginning of the review:

I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (usually I just hear parts of Chad’s side of the conversation through my office door, and never know what Tom’s responses are), I was particularly intrigued by the Feminist Press book Julia plugged, Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc. Now, I don’t remember what it was that made me want to read this book—the fact that Feminist Press had published it (and I’ve been interested in their work for a few years now), the fact that Julia sounded particularly excited about it (as we all should be and are about our respective books!), or the fact that it promised some pretty sultry scenes (who doesn’t want to read a little raunch for work purposes?)—but by the time a review copy floated to the top of my many stacks, I had decided to look into it myself.

And to be honest, for the first time in a long time, I found the accompanying texts to be more interesting than the book itself. I know, I’m still kind of reeling. The book has two afterwords, which provide a lot of history on Violette Leduc (who is best known for her autobiography La Bâtarde), her writing, her style, and her attempts and later small victories in getting published:

Thérèse et Isabelle formed the first section of a novel, Ravages, which Leduc presented to the publisher Gallimard in 1954. Judged “scandalous,” this work was censored by the publisher. . . . In its original version, Ravages was intended to retrace the three love stories of its heroine, Thérèse. These were inspired by, if not calqued on, the three liaisons that had marked Leduc’s youth . . .”

The first of these liaisons was a “carnal coupling with a fellow schoolgirl.” And that’s basically what the book is about. A schoolgirl, Thérèse, who envies and claims to hate another girl, Isabelle, and who then wind up fingering each other (and more) in Isabelle’s bed (among other places). (The manuscript even made Raymond Queneau, then a member of Gallimard’s reading committee, nervous.)

For the rest of the review, go here.

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