NELLY ARCAN, TRANSLATED BY DAVID HOMEL AND JACOB HOMEL
Nelly is going to die. It's provocative to say, but it's true. Nelly Arcan, author of Hysteric (originally written and published in French) will kill herself at the age of 36. Her protagonist, Nelly (who bears a great resemblance to the author), is also planning to die by her own hand, in her case at age 30, which is closing in on her.
Nelly, the protagonist, is also dying of a broken heart. She writes a letter (this book) to her ex. "This letter is my corpse," she writes. She is not weeping but functioning, writing angry poetry and going to extra therapy. She is dying, made mad, one might say, by being hysterical. And in this state, her story--or this part of it--is told. Nelly has fallen for a man, a journalist with a penchant for online porn, a man with many ex-girlfriends. This falling, and the loss of this love, destroys her.
Arcan tells the story we're all cautioned not to tell: one of a competitive, jealous, man-obsessed woman, the story of a woman who sees her own successes through the eyes of male lovers. Despite having published a well-acclaimed book in her mid-20s, Nelly (both the author and protagonist) now lives to perform for her man, a man she can't help but see as a man who has belonged to other women, one from which she wants to separate herself, a man she can't help but think is still claimed elsewhere. She hangs on through sex and obsession but ultimately can't keep him.
What's so great about this man to make him worthy of this obsession is never really addressed in the text--and rightly so, as it's not the point. What matters is that Nelly's attachment is fierce, as is her vulnerability. With women so often labelled "crazy," the fear of being seen as such is often repressive. Arcan is able to wow with her words--poetic, important and truthful--without giving in to this fear.