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The Way She Reads

My thoughts on everything I read; good, bad and indifferent.

Too Much, Too Young

All the Way - Marie Darrieussecq
Some books are harder to review than others and ‘All the Way’ certainly falls in the harder category.
This is the story of Solange’s sexual coming of age. It is told in three parts and while you might think that it gets easier to read about her dreams, fantasies and actions as she gets older, it didn’t quite work that way for me. In fact, there was a lot in this story that really disturbed me. That is significant because I read a lot of erotic books covering a range of topics and rarely find myself wanting to look away from what the author is trying to show me.
Solange’s story is told in three parts: Getting It, Doing It and Doing It Again and follows her from age 10 until a few, unspecified number of, years later. Solange is the daughter of a father she hero worships but who is rarely around and appears to be having affairs. Solange isn’t really aware of her father’s escapades although his behaviour does manage to embarrass her at times. The girl’s mother doesn’t seem to play an active role in Solange’s life. She is around but appears to be suffering from depression and migraines; something that appears to be connected to the photo of a young boy she keeps on her bedside table. With her parents being less than present in her life, much of Solange’s care is left to a neighbour, Monsieur Bihotz.
The reader follows Solange as her body and her interests change. She evolves from an innocent and happy young girl into a sex obsessed teenager with little to no guidance and guessing her way through discoveries and experiences. Everything the girl thinks she knows has either been found in an encyclopaedia or picked up from girlfriend gossip and neither can protect her or those around her from the devastation her transition will cause.
This book managed to disturb me on several levels. In the first part of the story the interactions between Solange and Monsieur Bihotz gave me the creeps. While it is never suggested that the man abuses Solange, the descriptions of him tucking her into her bed and, especially, the fact that the young girl can describe his penis in various states of arousal really got to me.
He has two dicks. The one for pissing and the other one. The other one is much bigger, the colour of a turkey’s comb, like the canna lilies.
In the two subsequent parts of the story Solange is a few years older, although the reader is never told exactly how old, and throws herself head first into a sex obsessed world. It was her desperation to experience everything as soon as possible that really got to me. On the one hand I was very impressed with the descriptions of all the insecurities teenagers go through when it comes to relationships and intimacy. On the other hand the way she throws herself into everything is so far beyond my level of experience that it shocked me to the core. It might have been easier if Solange’s age in those later years had been specified. Because the reader is only told she is a few years older than 10 it is up to them to imagine whether she is say, 13, 15 or 17. The fact that everything described in this book might have been happening to a girl aged only 14 made this a hard read.
Having said all of that, there were a few things I really admired about this book. The story is told in a rather fragmented fashion, jumping from thought to thought. Of course, that is exactly the way the teenage mind works and while it made the story a bit hard to follow at times, it also meant that the reader never had the opportunity to forget that they were living inside a teenage mind. The selfishness of teenagers and their capacity to make everything that happens about them was brilliantly portrayed, even if it made Solange a very hard character to like on occasion. I was also really impressed with some of the descriptions of Solange’s changing body.
Her nipples feel like they’re on fire. As if two eyes were opening in her chest, agonizing, blind and exposed to scrutiny.
Just as there were one or two times when her emotions struck a chord.
Oh, to be a child again. When she was little, the external world didn’t seem to weigh so heavily on the surface of her being.”
Maybe this was such a hard book to read because it is too realistic. It brought back memories of all the insecurities, confusing longings and pitfalls of adolescence with too much clarity. Some of Solange’s thoughts and experiences were so recognisable they might have been written about me. That combined with the fact that a lot of what she actually experiences goes way beyond anything I encountered during that time in my life may well explain why I feel so ambivalent about this book. One thing I do know for sure is that I’m happy I don’t have a teenage daughter living at home. I think this story would give any parent of a teenage daughter nightmares – even a mother who was kind of wild at that age herself.
Over all I would call this a very explicit, at times shocking, coming of age story written by an author who has an exceptional insight into the teenage mind. The writing in this book is brutally honest and at times poetically beautiful. This is the sort of book that will shock and disturb many because it shows us a part of the teenage experience we would rather deny. I defy anybody to read this book and not walk away from it with strong feelings. Whether those feelings are positive or negative very much depends on the sensibilities of the reader in question. This reader finds herself both impressed and disturbed.