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Undercurrents: Know What You Are Eating [Hardcover]

Marie Darrieussecq
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 2001
A mesmerizing new tour de force from the internationally acclaimed author of Pig Tales--the writer The New Yorker hailed as France's "best young novelist." Ever since Pig Tales (described by Booklist as "Animal Farm meets The Metamorphosis") became an immediate bestseller in France and was optioned by the great filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, Marie Darrieussecq has been an international literary superstar. With her stunning follow-up novel, My Phantom Husband--an immediate #1 bestseller--Darrieussecq continued to earn critical acclaim. Undercurrents is her greatest triumph to date. A mother and daughter mysteriously disappear to a deserted seaside town in Spain, but the main character emerges as the sea itself, as Darrieussecq evokes the varied moods and rich palette of the ocean with poetic genius. From seemingly simple events, Darrieussecq deftly plunges the reader into a sensual, surrealistic literary experience grounded in--yet worlds away from--day-to-day reality. Called "truly inspired" by Elle and "gripping" by Le Monde, Undercurrents fulfills and exceeds our expectations of this talented young author.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

From the epigraph (taken from a Bj”rk song) to the final pages, French sensation Marie Darrieussecq's (Pig Tales) Undercurrents (trans. by Linda Coverdale) is tinged with mystery and quiet menace. Without warning, a woman flees with her young daughter to a small, coastal resort town after emptying her and her husband's joint bank account. Someone is pursuing them but who? And why? Told from multiple, often indeterminate perspectives, this short novel though rich with detail does not give up its secrets easily, if at all. It will tantalize some readers but simply frustrate others.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Translated by Coverdale, the 1997 winner of the French American Foundation's Translation Prize, this is an atmospheric novel about a young woman who flees her husband, taking their child with her. The tale is told in a stream-of-consciousness narrative by the characters involved in the drama. The journey begins with mother and child leaving their home secretly and arriving at the beach to camp for the night. Shortly thereafter, they settle in a seaside town for the summer, and the mother takes a lover. The spurned husband sends a private detective out in search of his lost family. Throughout, the descriptions are slow and sensuous. Though Darrieussecq's books (including the recently translated Pig Tales) are best sellers in France, many readers will find that this one feels inconsequential: nothing much happens in a text consisting almost entirely of musings. Of interest to discerning readers. Cathleen A. Towey, Westbury Memorial P.L., NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Treading Water Dec 27 2001
Format:Hardcover
All the time I spent reading "Undercurrents" I struggled with defining for myself the constituent parts of what I would say comprise a literary novel (so unsatisfying was the reading experience, so demanding of a reason for that dissatisfaction). I would define a literary novel as a novel in which the author is overly concerned with the order of words. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. For example, a splendid vocabulary can enhance a good story (it's the vegetables to the meat, as it were). At the same time, it can work to a book's detriment: words can get in the way (I can think of at least two books I've read in the last six months - Ali Smith's "Hotel World", Don Delillo's "The Body Artist" - that can serve as good examples), such that the book - as an experience to thrill at over the course of page one to whatever - is akin to watching aphids skirt around in circles on the surface of some scummy pond. You can see what they are up to but there is not much reason to stick around.
What I'm saying is: there are good literary novels and bad literary novels; the word "literary" can be perjorative as well as complimentary. Good literary novels (such as Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Zadie Smith's "White Teeth") can dazzle you with a kind of expertise (look how much I know, see what I can make language do) without getting in the way of the fact that - hey, there are people here I'm interested in, you've got my attention due to the fact that you have created an interesting place for me the reader to spend my time.
"Undercurrents" - like "Hotel World", like "The Body Artist" - is not a good literary novel.
The premise is not bad.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The lure of the sea in beautiful prose April 26 2001
Format:Hardcover
Darrieussecq's UNDERCURRENTS surpasses her first literary hit, PIG TALES, in both its vision and its execution. While PIG TALES dripped with sensuality as its main character metamorphosed into a erotic pig, it lost some of its momentum in the middle of the book. Not UNDERCURRENTS. This novel strengthens with every page, and by the end can even be described as a literary pageturner.
The premise here is not surreal but ordinary: a woman and her young daughter abruptly leave their husband/father to begin anew in a seaside town. The husband hires a private investigator to track them down, and the woman, unaware, leaves a crucial clue to her whereabouts. The author treats this familiar plot with images of the sea, of what it means to be lured by it, of its power. Even the private investigator settles into its rhythms, lulled by the promises of sea and sand.
Although a small book, readers will find it difficult to fly through it, mostly because of the multiple points of view (the mother, the child, the landlord, the husband, the grandmother, the private investigator), none of whom are named. The "she"'s are particularly difficult to place, mostly because the women think and feel more than act, so the reader might have trouble determining by description to whom the "she" refers. Stick with it, though, because the rewards of reading this slim volume are well worth a little concentration and deciphering.
My biggest criticism of this novel is the absence of emotion. All the characters refer to the young girl as "the child", as though she were an object, so it makes it difficult to understand why the woman took her daughter with her in the first place and why the husband wants his daughter back with him.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The lure of the sea in beautiful prose April 26 2001
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Darrieussecq's UNDERCURRENTS surpasses her first literary hit, PIG TALES, in both its vision and its execution. While PIG TALES dripped with sensuality as its main character metamorphosed into a erotic pig, it lost some of its momentum in the middle of the book. Not UNDERCURRENTS. This novel strengthens with every page, and by the end can even be described as a literary pageturner.
The premise here is not surreal but ordinary: a woman and her young daughter abruptly leave their husband/father to begin anew in a seaside town. The husband hires a private investigator to track them down, and the woman, unaware, leaves a crucial clue to her whereabouts. The author treats this familiar plot with images of the sea, of what it means to be lured by it, of its power. Even the private investigator settles into its rhythms, lulled by the promises of sea and sand.
Although a small book, readers will find it difficult to fly through it, mostly because of the multiple points of view (the mother, the child, the landlord, the husband, the grandmother, the private investigator), none of whom are named. The "she"'s are particularly difficult to place, mostly because the women think and feel more than act, so the reader might have trouble determining by description to whom the "she" refers. Stick with it, though, because the rewards of reading this slim volume are well worth a little concentration and deciphering.
My biggest criticism of this novel is the absence of emotion. All the characters refer to the young girl as "the child", as though she were an object, so it makes it difficult to understand why the woman took her daughter with her in the first place and why the husband wants his daughter back with him. The characters have little, if any, emotional connection to one another. The sole object of passion is the sea. While that may have been Darrieussecq's goal, the emotional distance negates the plot, for why would a man track down his wife and child if he did not love them, or hate them, or have strong feelings one way or another? And why would a woman pack up and leave unless she had strong feelings about her life as it was? Things seem to just happen in this world, without the "undercurrents" of emotion.
Still, what the author has accomplished here is extraordinary. The prose is lyrical and mesmerizing, particularly as the novel finds its stride, and the concept, the sea as a Siren and as a unifying force, works well. Fans of Darrieussecq's earlier works will find this novel even more satisfying. It also makes a interesting companion book to another French novel, also published by The New Press, Jean Echenoz's I'M GONE.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Treading Water Dec 27 2001
By peter wild - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
All the time I spent reading "Undercurrents" I struggled with defining for myself the constituent parts of what I would say comprise a literary novel (so unsatisfying was the reading experience, so demanding of a reason for that dissatisfaction). I would define a literary novel as a novel in which the author is overly concerned with the order of words. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. For example, a splendid vocabulary can enhance a good story (it's the vegetables to the meat, as it were). At the same time, it can work to a book's detriment: words can get in the way (I can think of at least two books I've read in the last six months - Ali Smith's "Hotel World", Don Delillo's "The Body Artist" - that can serve as good examples), such that the book - as an experience to thrill at over the course of page one to whatever - is akin to watching aphids skirt around in circles on the surface of some scummy pond. You can see what they are up to but there is not much reason to stick around.
What I'm saying is: there are good literary novels and bad literary novels; the word "literary" can be perjorative as well as complimentary. Good literary novels (such as Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Zadie Smith's "White Teeth") can dazzle you with a kind of expertise (look how much I know, see what I can make language do) without getting in the way of the fact that - hey, there are people here I'm interested in, you've got my attention due to the fact that you have created an interesting place for me the reader to spend my time.
"Undercurrents" - like "Hotel World", like "The Body Artist" - is not a good literary novel.
The premise is not bad. Like Darrieussecq's previous novels (the wonderful, Kafkaesque "Pig Tales", the squib that was "Phantom Husband"), the story is rooted in the idea of identity: what happens when your life changes forever. On this occasion, a woman driving her child home from the child's grandmother's house decides not to go home. She withdraws all of the money from the joint account she shares with her husband and disappears, heading to Spain but holing up in a French seaside town just shy of the Spanish border. The woman and the child are observed - by the owner of the flat the woman lets, by a lifeguard called Patrick and by a detective hired by her husband to track her and the child down. The narration - what actual narration there is, in terms of moving the story along from point A to point B - is spread diffusely between the mother, the child, the child's grandmother, the landlord and the detective. Aside from Patrick, nobody is named. This feels crucial. Nameless, these shallow characters skit about, aimlessly reflecting upon the actions of others without - and, again, this is crucial to the great lack at the book's centre - reflecting upon their own actions. The mother does not wonder - or attempt to explain - why she did what she did. The child does not really miss her father. The detective appears to be a little remiss, but - so what? Who are these people? Why should we care? No reason.
The grandmother thinks about television programmes and trips taken with the child to observe archeological sites. The child observes the sea. The mother spends time - more time than you would believe - thinking about the straps at the back of her summer dress, the only dress she has with her, the dress she washes each and every night to wear again the next day. There is (or there may be) a minor dalliance with Patrick. It isn't always clear - metaphor imposes at the point when a reader demands statement of fact (when a reader asks themself: what is happening here?). Metaphor obscures the knowledge you need to perceive what is going on. It's frustrating.
So: what happens is this: you read and attempt to get beneath the skin of what precisely is happening. You are deftly deflected, thwarted time after time, in your purpose. By the last chapter, you want to scream (you want to hold the book under the water, not caring if it can breathe or not, just wanting the whole thing to be rendered somehow, made obsolete, taken from view).
It seems to me, in conclusion, that whatever made "Pig Tales" great, whatever Darrieussecq tapped into to produce that book, lessens with each successive work, like "Pig Tales" was the tolling of a wicked loud bell (clanging: here I am, new talent everybody) and "Phantom Husband" and "Undercurrents" are merely echoes of that first clap, reflections of something that - briefly - seemed interesting and turned out not to be.
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