Marie NDiaye Writes New Book, Sounds a Lot Like Marie NDiaye

Courtesy of World Literature Today, we have a look at Marie NDiaye’s latest French novel, titled Ladivine. WLT bills it as having “perhaps the most complex plot of any of her works,” but regardless of how evolved of a work it is, bears a number of NDiaye’s signature moves, which will be familiar to anyone who has picked up All My Friends.

First we have the inordinately complicated system of relationships, all of course ripe for unraveling:

The novel begins from the perspective of Clarisse Rivière, whose life has been shaped by her refusal to admit to those she knows, especially Richard, her husband, and Ladivine, her daughter, that her mother, Ladivine Sylla, is a poor black seamstress. She has taken the name Clarisse to sound more bourgeois, but to her mother, whom she visits secretly, she will always be Malinka.

Then we have NDiaye’s constant willingness to even further complicate her narratives (which, you may have noticed, are not lacking for complexity to begin with):

The perspective changes to that of the daughter, who occasionally sees her mother. After Clarisse has been brutally murdered by a lover she has accepted into her house and even introduced to her own mother, her daughter tries to understand what has happened.

And then we have the part where a character spontaneously transforms into a dog:

Ladivine feels she is being watched by a brown dog, with whom she identifies, and into whom she presumably turns.

Admittedly, our own NDiaye title, All My Friends, doesn’t have any species-switching, although “Brulard’s Day” does include some decidedly creepy canines that bear some resemblance to the one in Ladivine.

Interestingly as well, the WLT review references a constant feature in NDiaye’s books: the feeling that she’s drawing on her Senegalese ancestry, even as she (and the text, to an extent) resolutely deny it:

NDiaye has often said that she has no relation to Africa, as her Senegalese father left France when she was a small child, but she is often considered an African author and is sometimes classified as African in libraries. As in her earlier works, a racial theme underlies the story, but it is almost hidden. Only once is Ladivine Sylla referred to as black. When her granddaughter visits an unnamed anglophone African country with her husband and children, she is mistaken for someone else, presumably the result of skin color, and she accepts this different identity easily.

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