The Spectacle of Marie NDiaye’s Trois femmes puissantes

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Author: Andrew Asibong
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,668 words

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[(essay date 2013) In the following essay, Asibong analyzes the complex narrative structure of Three Strong Women in terms of how it functions as a novel.]

Le travailleur ne se produit pas lui-même, il produit une puissance indépendante. Le succès de cette production, son abondance, revient vers le producteur comme abondance de la dépossession. Tout le temps et l’espace de son monde lui deviennent étrangers avec l’accumulation de ses produits aliénés. Le spectacle est la carte de ce nouveau monde, carte qui recouvre exactement son territoire. Les forces mêmes qui nous ont échappé se montrent à nous dans toute leur puissance.Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle


Marie NDiaye’s 2009 novel Trois femmes puissantes, a triptych of stories loosely stitched together using the enticing but largely illusory threads of “women,” “Africa” and puissance, marked the then 42-year-old author’s passage into literary superstardom.1 The highest-selling French novel of the year—it had by 2010 shifted a remarkable 450,000 copies2—the book was also awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. NDiaye’s prior career as novelist, playwright and screenwriter could hardly be considered, of course, to have been mediocre, and she remains, for many readers (myself included), simply the most important figure to emerge in French fiction for decades.3 Her first novel, Quant au riche avenir, was published by Les Éditions de Minuit in 1985 when she was just 17, and she went on, in a succession of dazzling literary accomplishments, to prove herself as truly the best in show, at least as far as the critics were concerned. Following a prestigious Académie Française bursary in 1987 to study at the Villa Medicis in Rome, NDiaye published a string of novels, each receiving greater critical acclaim than the last, the only possible exception to the uninterrupted stream of encomia being reserved for her second novel Comédie classique (Paris: P.O.L, 1987), its stylistic bravura—it consisted of a single, hundred page long sentence—being felt in some quarters to smack of wilful abstruseness. In general terms, though, NDiaye has, since 1985, been hailed as a quasi-supernaturally charming storyteller and stylistician, a literary “sorcière” who holds in her possession a magical talent for creating narratives that gleam with mordant wit and social observation.4

Her monumental Rosie Carpe (Paris: Minuit, 2001) would go on to win the prestigious Prix Femina. At the time of writing, four international conferences (one in Germany, one in France and two in the UK), and three edited volumes of essays (from France, Germany and the US) have been devoted to the scholarly analysis of her work: a remarkable academic consecration for a writer born as recently as 1967. In 2009 she co-wrote the screenplay of Claire Denis’s acclaimed film White Material, appearing on the front cover of France’s stylish magazine Les Inrockuptibles with Denis and the film’s star, Isabelle Huppert. But it was Trois femmes puissantes (Paris: Gallimard, 2009) and its surrounding hype that turned NDiaye into a household name in France, winning her new readers in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125381