Somewhere in Paris, a woman, while working in a beauty parlour- cum-knocking shop, slowly metamorphoses into a pig. Her skin coarsens, her hair thickens into bristles, she grows supplementary feet. Her clientele is initially buoyed by her fleshy mutation, but as the symptoms become more explicit, so do the sexual demands placed on her. She conscientiously submits to incessant porkings that enrich her employer. But her sole confidante is butchered in the street, while she becomes something akin to a victim of Le Pen-style racism. She is gang-raped, sodomised, miscarries a sextuplet of piglets. She finds fleeting happiness when, dumped on to the street by her boyfriend, she settles down with a werewolf, a fellow outcast who satisfies his monthly craving for human flesh by eating pizza delivery men. But he is killed, and she fetches up contentedly grazing the woods for acorns, a quadruped among her piggy peers, released from the savage yolk of humanity.
This is not, fortunately, the latest shock news item to hit France, but Pig Tales, a new novel by Marie Darrieussecq. It's a marvellously funny parable which delivers its unrelenting succession of shocks with chatty insouciance. You read it and you think, where the hell did that come from? Imagine Orwell and Kafka simultaneously forcing themselves on Betty Blue. It's that sort of book. For all the frank portrayals of sexism and racism at work - it has been labelled a tirade against Le Pen, and there's not much room for doubt about the cultural specificity of the narrator's porkiness - Darrieussecq is coy about its meaning, and the source of its popularity.
The French title, Truismes, puns on the French word for sow, "truie", and the book was applauded for vocalising some inchoate truisms about femininity. "Why the book was a success I don't really have a rational answer," says Darrieussecq. …