Having studied– and absolutely adored– Chanson Douce as part of my undergraduate degree, it only felt natural to see what else Slimani had to offer. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed for two reasons: Chanson Douce is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time, and Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes had recommended Dans le jardin de l’ogre on The High Low– and I’d trust their advice on just about anything.
Of course, I could have read the english translation of the book, but I wanted to experience Slimani’s true writing style- I didn’t want anything to get lost in translation- literally or figuratively.
From the very first page, I was hooked. I can’t quite put my finger on how Slimani does it, but she just makes her characters so captivating. We’re never told how to feel about them, and all narration is pretty neutral, but it’s clear that we aren’t supposed to judge Adèle in the way that the rest of a conservate French society would. Yes, on the surface, her incessant need for sexual arouse is grotesque, but this narrative is about so much more than a promiscuous woman, but rather a woman that wants to feel needed and necessary.
Slimani picks apart the hypocrisies within patriarchal discourse through this protagonist. She apparently has it all: she’s middle class, is married to a successful man, is mother to Lucien and has a successful career. Yet, she still isn’t satisfied. However, rather than persecuting the character for this, Slimani presents the facts frankly. We don’t judge Adèle for her infidelity or for the fact she doesn’t love motherhood wholeheartedly, but we are encouraged to empathise with her desire to be desired- which takes over all other desires.
While others have criticised Slimani for the lack of depth to Adèle and the clichés that run throughout the narrative, I think these factors serve to emphasise the premise here. Adèle’s life fits the bill of society’s ‘ideal’ woman on paper, but this job spec doesn’t accommodate for real women with real needs- and that’s what’s so bizarre.
If you want to read something that allows you to understand a woman’s sexual desires and desire to be objectified without rendering her passive and powerful, read Dans le jardin de l’ogre. If you enjoy writing that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, conflicted and makes you question your prejudices, read Dans le jardin de l’ogre. Of course, I can’t say a lot for the english translation– it’s perfectly possible that Slimani’s intentions weren’t conveyed effectively– but, in my opinion, Dans le jardin de l’orgre is fantastic.