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Countering the Culture: The Novels of Christiane Rochefort.

Countering the Culture: The Novels of Christiane Rochefort. By MARGARET-ANNE HUTTON. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. 1998. 277 pp. 42.50 [pounds sterling] (paperbound 14.99 [pounds sterling]).

It is something of a shock to discover, on the very first page of this immensely useful study, that sales of Christiane Rochefort's nine novels have exceeded four million copies, given the current unavailability of so many of them. Such popularity also seems at odds with the relatively small amount of critical attention devoted to her work; this book is described as the first book-length study, although there does appear to be another listed in the bibliography. But that is still very little, given the importance of Rochefort's novels, whose popularity is combined with high literary standing in many quarters, owing to their sophisticated use of language and deployment of themes that will be central to social and cultural analysis of contemporary society over at least three decades.

After a good discussion of the notion of popular culture and the problems inherent in classifying texts as either 'high' or 'popular' in the French socio-cultural context, extremely pertinent to Rochefort's case, Margaret-Anne Hutton takes each of the texts in turn. From the early ones, Le Repos du guerrier, Les Stances a Sophie, and Les Petits Enfants du siecle, with their well-recognized and distinctive social commentary on modern France, to the later Quand tu vas chez les femmes and La Porte du fond, where Rochefort explores sado-masochism, child sexuality, and child abuse, Hutton takes as her guiding theme the extent to which Rochefort embodied contestation in all its (gauchiste) forms: berating society's norms and institutions, its hierarchical organization, its alienating notions of happiness and sexuality, and its oppressions of language, discourse, gender, and behaviour. With her depiction of the complex dynamics of power and resistance to power as lived within the heterosexual couple and the family, Rochefort has been widely seen as anticipating many of the themes of the women's movement and its cultural revolution, although the convergence in her work of contestation and libertarianism led her at times into some ambiguous territories. Hutton expands on the relevance of the Marcusan and Situationist analyses of the multiple oppressions and repressions of capitalist, consumerist society, and the central role of language to Rochefort's oppositional stances is well noted. Underlining the consistent interrogation, throughout Rochefort's work, of the norms of language, gender, sexuality, and desire, both heterosexual and homosexual, Hutton concludes persuasively that Rochefort is anticipating the subversive dismantling of fixed gender and sexual identities associated with queer theory.


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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Atack, Margaret
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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