Incest

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Sep 2017

Member Reviews

Okay... Incest had been a whirlpool that kept me pulling under. This is haunting narration coming from the author, jerky at times, at times deeply moving. I'm speechless.
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DNF

This book could've been good but it needs to be redone with a better translator and a professional editor. It's hard to always having to read between the lines because the translation is literal and there's also a lot of redundancies.
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I didn’t quite know how to feel about this book. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great.
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Do you know that feeling we have when we know where a book was going, and we know it could have worked – but it simply didn’t? I feel that about the novel Incest (2017), by Christine Angot, translated by Tess Lewis (Original title: L’Incest, 1999). Trying to be experimental while never giving up control over what the experiment should mean: this seems very much like a recipe for failure.

The main protagonist, our narrator, is a single mother and writer also named Christine Angot. When the book begins, she is suffering a mental breakdown, after a seemingly tumultuous lesbian love affair. This is her descent into hell, and we are in the middle of it with her. “In her head there was a kind of sound, she floated completely”

The prose is frantic and circular, revolving over the narrator’s obsessions. She seems to be delirious at times, and we immediately feel that there is trauma hidden behind her incongruous responses to her affair. As the book progresses, her mumblings grow increasingly fragmented and wild. She repeats words randomly, giving them new meanings, and constantly changes perspective, mixing the remaining characters until they become indistinguishable – her daughter, her ex-husband, her ex-girlfriend become one and the same amorphous instance of herself. Time and chronology are also fragmented: at one point, we no longer know what is past and what is present: she seems to be continually ending her relationship with her girlfriend, and then getting back again. The narrator sounds like a person in the middle of a manic episode: locked in her mind, frantic, but with no way to escape (in fact, she compares her mental isolation to having “locked-in syndrome”). We’re still watching a woman fall apart: “her mental world is one of morbid imprisonment.”

Her manic episode ends as abruptly as it had begun: the narrator suddenly seems to stop for a moment to watch herself from a distance. It is here that we first notice that she is writing a book as much as she is living her story – so much so, that it becomes unclear where the story ends and the book begins. In an attempt to pin down her thought patterns, our narrator explores, in short vignettes, several psychoanalytical categories – as if in a prelude to an essay on her own pain. However, despite making use of seemingly technical terms, those are defined by the narrator through her own perspective and her own life story. Her ‘personal taxonomy’ is, as she claims, an ‘incestuous’ one: terms like schizophrenia, paranoia, sadomasochism, suicide, homosexuality, narcissism and perversion mingle with each other and become elements of her paranoid pattern of thinking.

As if she were undergoing a psychoanalysis session (or standing before a confessional), the narrator describes the trauma behind her current relationship crisis, and forces herself to relive her painful experiences. At the centre of her rumblings, the point around which everything revolves over and over, is the fact – hinted at throughout the book – that, when she as a teenager, our narrator was sexually abused by her biological father (she calls it an ‘incest’), whom she did not meet until she was fourteen years old. As she does with the other characters in this book, when the narrator talks about her father, the figures of the abuser and the victim/ the seducer and the seduced are intertwined, and later become indistinguishable. For the narrator, it is not always clear who seduced or abused whom. “It is very hard loving someone with whom love is impossible.”

The only thing she knows is that this ‘incest’ shaped not only every relationship she has had so far – with her girlfriend, her ex-husband, even her daughter -, but also her own thought patterns; it has affected her way of thinking and of deriving meaning from her experiences. “I connect, I associate, everything relates, that’s what I call my incestuous mental structure.” She believes to have an ‘incestuous mind’, prone to making odd associations between disconnected ideas and events (as the ideas of giving birth and having sex with a woman, for instance). “I associate things others don’t associate, I bring together things that don’t fit together.”

Our narrator assumes too many roles at the same time: she is the one ending the relationship, and the one getting dumped; she is the one living her crisis in the present while at the same time talking about it as if it belonged in the past; she is at once the writer and her own writing subject; she is at the same time the psychoanalyst and the patient, she is her best and worst reader.

That’s an artifice that mirrors back the interweaving between fiction and memory that infuses Angot's work. It reads almost as if the author were performing an incest through incestuous means, blurring all the lines. The core of the pact Angot offers to the reader is not on of truth (fictional or nonfictional), but of doubt. The idea of ‘incest’ is both Angot's object and her method – materially and formally, truth is betrayed and consent is ambiguous. Writing and performance, as well as fiction and nonfiction, become indistinguishable. “There is no partition, everything touches, nothing is untouchable (…) I’m not making this up. The brain cannot be divided into separate parts. It’s not that I’m missing something upstairs, as the saying goes, it’s a house without walls (…).”

I like this idea, and I can see where the author intended to take the book. However, for me, she never really got there in the end. The overarching idea of ‘incest’, in this book, works better when it is explained than when it is actually carried out. Angot seems to be more focused in exposing it than she is in actually putting it into practice. The novel almost reads as if she were urging us to look at her, not at what she is doing. The author is not so much challenging social and literary taboos, as she is reproducing, enacting and thereby exploiting them.

I imagine it must be hard to try to be experimental while also wanting to make very clear to the reader what the experiment is all about. As the narrator’s thought patterns are on full display, so is the machinery of the book. We can see through it, but the act of reading it and crossing it through feels almost like visiting an open-air museum – we cannot touch anything, but we are on a guided tour where everything must be explained; we can read the labels and understand what it is all about, but we feel nothing. The book machinery might have gotten rusty after being repeatedly exposed under wind and rain; or it might have become tired of having to ask for excuses and explain itself out so many times, over and over.
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I'll be honest here, I didn't manage to finish this book.  It was just a little too 'out there' for me in terms of subject and writing style.  It was a stream of conciousness kind of prose which ran away with itself a little too much for me and is not a relaxing read.  I guess I understand why it was written in this way, to give the reader an insight into the protagnists disordered mind but it just wasn't for me in the end.
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Poetic and beautiful writing but very abstract as a plot. Half the time I was confused about what was happening and although I like books where I have to interpret the plot but this was just too much even for me. Overall, I don't regret reading this book since it was interesting but at the same time if I know about the torture I'll face figuring out what's happening before getting into this, I wouldn't necessarily want to pick this up.
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A twisty, repetitive, lost-in-her-own-thoughts maelstrom of a book. Basically, it can all be summed up with a quote straight from the book:

your writing is so unbelievable, intelligent, muddled, but always luminous, accessible, direct, physical. Your readers don’t understand a thing and they understand everything. It’s intimate, personal, shameless, autobiographical, and universal.

But it's harrowing subject matter -- the dissolution of a relationship takes up maybe the first three quarters of the book, then the last quarter details of Angot's (or a fictional version of Angot, it is purposefully unclear) incestuous relationship with her father, but all trapped in spiraling thoughts. I often get trapped in my own spiraling thoughts with no way out too. Yay for not feeling so alone, even if the subject matter isn't about me at all. Overthinking writers of the world -- unite!

Incest by Christine Angot went on sale November 7, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I hated this narrator so much. She was just unbearable and I couldn't stand her personality, her actions, or whatever from page 1. My dislike of her hit me like a brick wall and I never recovered. I could not finish this book.
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I'm afraid I didn't really enjoy this book or the writing style. I didn't finish it as it just wasn't my thing. Obviously a difficult subject but I found the author confusing.
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This novel is truly one story in many parts, and is not for the faint of heart. While the subject matter is seemingly taboo, it is more than that. Throughout the pages you read about a myriad of sexual trysts, conquests, fetishes, all told as recollections; a given fact that what you're reading is purely what the writer wants you to know. I feel that power is left with Angot, when in most narratives it would be taken away. This is not your typical Beginning, Middle, End, sort of story, rather you're brought into a life and world, and only given an explanation to any of it much later than you'd anticipate. However I did find myself constantly questioning the authenticity of Angot's recollections. The writing draws you in so closely, so deliberately, that only after you finish do you ask if any of it was real. The very nature of Angot's book is controversial, and in so many parts unbelievable, the voice it gives though, the stories it tells, are so much more than what they are, and even what they aren't. This is one book I had to continually leave and come back too; trying to read more than a chapter or two, a few dozen pages at a time, often yielded so much to consume and take in that I simply had to stop. Being overwhelmed isn't something I always like in books. Written to feel like a diary, or just someone telling you all the kinky stuff they've done is unnerving. You'll feel buzzed after you read this, you'll feel your skin tingling and crawling. This is not a modern Lolita, this is entirely something else.
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Incest is such a difficult read.. for so many reasons.

Written by an author who says she's insane made me question the motives for a novel such as this. 
Angot is France's most controversial author and I feel that might she have raised a few eyebrows with this one.

Although not graphic in content, it was not a book I finished due to the writing style, and I go the feeling it was trying to shock more than it should have.
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DNF - I wanted something more like Pauline Reage (what, and you're judging ME?!), but got a very ignorable, maddened and maddening ramble.  Fiction or not, I quickly realised I couldn't care one bit.
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Grimy and gritty. Taboo and sexual. How can a relationship continue? How can a relationship heal? The primary reason why family and sex shouldn't be intermingled, but it certainly makes for a gripping read. Sad and serious. Not sure if you should read it or not.
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JEEZ - W.T.F. did I just read???
The novel closes powerfully--I will say that. Over and over again, the narrator compares herself to a dog. She feels so ashamed of her actions--that she may have even thought she liked her actions at the time, and even now in retrospect--that she compares herself to a dog as someone she loves leaves her (because this passage has already been published, I'll quote it here):

"It wasn't his brains I was sucking, do you realize, I could have had very handsome men, I could have loved Nadine's movies, I could have spent Christmas Eve with you. Either had very handsome men or been with you. But no, you see, Marie Christine. You're leaving tonight, we canceled the tickets to Rome. You're going to be with your family, I'm weeping like the dog I am, you don't celebrate Christmas with your dog. Dogs are stupid, you can get them to suck on a plastic bone, and they're stupid, dogs believe you. Then don't even notice what they're sucking on. It's horrible being a dog."

There were moments when I thought, "Whew! Might not make it through this one! This stream of consciousness makes me want to slap her and tell her, 'Sit down and be quiet!'"

This novel was characterized not only by the graphic nature of the relationships described here (incestuous fallacio inside of a church confessional anyone??) but by the chaotic stream of consciousness Angot used to give us her story. Honestly, I both expect and respect that this stream of consciousness if probably what it REALLY sounds like in our heads when we are distressed like this--so unnerved that we feel we're really burst out of our heads, seams popping us undone like a shoe two sizes too small. So, Christine Angot shows IMMENSE talent in being able to convey that so effectively. I will give her that. I decided to push through a bit longer and there were moments of gleaming, shining narration that took my breath away--whether for good or bad reasons you can be the judge, but I'd argue that the ability to do so at all can only be all good, no matter the road we took to get there.
 
I could say, "Full review to come" but I think that's probably enough for now, don't you? Not even sure how to rate this one, but I'm leaning toward 2* at the moment. Will get my bearings and then possibly reconsider... :)
The cover art, though is absolutely exquisite. So simple and yet so beautiful, so telling.

For me, it wasn't that the subject matter here bothered me--I have a strong stomach for the taboo. It was the author's method a stream of consciousness that at times maddened me (fitting, perhaps) and at times impressed me. Ultimately, I was too compelled to skim through the read because of this manic narrator's voice, and for that I give 2*, though there were definitely some shining moments to be found within these pages.
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I could not get into this book. The writing was not the best. I do understand the author has issues, but it still did not make the rambling sentences ok. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publiser for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
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Incredibly strange and bad. Shows the confused and erratic state of mind of the narrator / protagonist.
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I heard about this book on 20 July 2017 and immediately requested an ARC. I received it about 30 minutes later and began reading on my lunch break.

It took me about 20% of the novel to decide whether Angot was brilliant or a hack. After a parenthetical conversation with her editor, I knew – she’s a genius. She reminds me of Henry Miller this way, how it can be a bit difficult to discern exactly where she’s going, or even where she is, at any given moment in the text. It takes a bit of reading to catch on the style of this particular novel (I’ve not read her before, so I can’t comment on her other works or even make a comparison), both structurally and content-wise, but once I realized what was happening, I couldn’t put the book down. I read it in three short sittings.

The novel breaks down into about 4 distinct sections [not marked as such in the text, so perhaps it’s better to say that the novel logically separated into 4 sections in my reading], and I’d like to make a few comments on each.

1st section – This portion of the book comprises about the first half of the text. The pace is frenetic and reminded me of listening to someone in the middle of a manic episode, or high on meth (don’t ask how I know), except every word was also beautiful. It was like the smartest person you’ve ever met trying to force out the solution to save humanity with their final breath – intense. Intense is the perfect word for the entire novel, most especially for the 1st and 4th sections (as I’m listing them here). Uncomfortable is another apt description, both for content and for concept. This half of the book is a cyclical narrative of a relationship continually ending but not ending but ending – it is thoughtful, compelling, painfully realistic thought patterns on full display. We’re nearly crazy at the end (of anything, really), complete with racing thoughts, jumbled ideas, paranoia, fear, anger, dismay, and confusion. Angot wonderfully captures the sense of an ending.

2nd section – Here we have a distinct and intentional change, explained to us by the narrator herself. The structure and flow change entirely, though not the overall tone. We’re still watching a woman fall apart, but in a much more clearly diagrammed way. There’s no more cycling, rather a deliberately paced narrative, broken only a few times.

3rd section – Section 3 is clearly unlike the rest of the novel, being a list of mostly (but not entirely) psychology and sociology terms, loosely defined through the narrator’s own understanding and story. It is part of her attempt to understand why she engages with her life in the peculiar way she does.

4th section – The fourth and final section of the novel continues in the vein of part 2, but with more interjecting of the narrative style of part 1. The narrator always calms herself down, however, restates her point, and continues on with a mostly calm and direct accounting of what’s going on. Finally, at about 75% of totality, the narrator directly addresses the title of the novel – incest. She mentions it a few times throughout, but now she tells her story. It’s tough reading. Shame palpable. Acknowledgement of the fact is where she wants to be, allowing it to override fear/shame/hatred/love. Between the brokenness of the the first half and the halting attempts to relate a story too taboo for words, this part of the novel is intense beyond understanding, much less words. You just have to read it.

A final note before I end my review of this amazing text…while perhaps not technically a stream of consciousness novel, Incest works better as one than most anything I’ve ever read. Ulysses is the original, but not as mature (heresy, I know); The Waves is the height, but there’s something more honest about Incest. Many try to write (or have tried) stream of consciousness, but this novel, stylistically, is near perfection.

I would recommend this novel to anyone, especially fans of modern/contemporary literary fiction or experimental fiction. Even from my review it’s easy to tell that the book isn’t for everyone, but I will unabashedly say that the novel is pure, uncompromising, punishing brilliance.
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I picked this up because the description reminded me of The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison, another fairly quick read of a memoir which I found both fascinating and disturbing. This book ultimately wasn't as much like The Kiss as I expected, but it was still worth reading. It's a dark, confusing read, but the moments where it's clear are interesting and thought provoking enough to make up for being confused a lot.
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"…A man’s sex penetrates radically.  I like what’s radical.  Other kinds of penetration are possible, borders, journeys…"

Angot begins finally at the three-quarter mark to describe the incest in meeting her father, whom she never previously knew, and then subsequently being charmed by him.  Eight days in which she was afforded the chance to know him firsthand as a father, and then as a lover for a time, first with that kiss on the lips and then whatever else Angot chooses to eventually deliver on her page. 

"…And I’m still a dog and I’m still looking for a master."

Isn’t all good writing some form of obsession, a supersaturation of some pressing demand on our heart and the meaning of our being?  Lives riddled by mistakes and insufficient plans.  Character studies among the worst of the worst.  The insistence to finally get things right.  To make of life something more interesting and palatable.  Trying on names for things and different ideas.  Seeing things in ways others are not susceptible to or aware of.  Taking that one step out of line and suffering the consequences.  No playing it safe on the sidelines.  Decorum saved for our last days and attempts at amendments guaranteed to be forgotten within days of being deceased.  A moving on regardless of past promises.  Hollow effects falling on deaf ears.  "There is no cover," Lish said. "Charge the fire. "

"…in Savoie there was a church in the village where all the houses had flagstone roofs, in this church the Stations of the Cross were particularly beautiful and the confessional witnessed my open mouth on my father’s penis, I had to finish him off in the car, he didn’t want to ejaculate in the confessional after all."

Angot claims she does not care what others think of her, or her writing.  Her pen must be free of mediation that might control the outcome.  She has no agenda, no vengeance on her page, just her freedom of expression.  And damn those she says who want a story, or plot and romance without the pain of process it takes in getting to the end.  And she claims she will, as desire is the vehicle in which to escape our despair.  Angot goes on to say, "Tough luck."  That is her exacting sentence, and there is no doubt it is she who is speaking.

"…Dogs are stupid, you can get them to suck on a plastic bone, and they’re stupid, dogs believe you."

Her needs are rarely met.  Meanwhile she licks and sucks and fucks whomever needs it.  And then creates entire books about the subject and her behavior.  Angot is popular in France and widely read.  She is controversial, at times sued, and in spite of it wins the occasional award judged for important writing. But she often feels despicable while unable to do anything about this feeling.  Similar to the trap she is unable to escape from.  And yet I do sympathize with her, still wanting her to indulge herself in every profane act imaginable.  I want her dutifully soiled by her own making and then have the courage to write about it.  It is Angot’s chosen way to redemption in her search for satisfaction on the page.  It is her perpetual hunger unassuaged and a monster in the making.
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