“The trip to the East”: family mechanics

Each in their own way, The consent by Vanessa Springora (Grasset, 2020) and The big family by Camille Kouchner (Seuil, 2021), published in the wake of the #MoiAussi movement, have recently been able to unveil the mechanisms of predation and sexual abuse.

But unlike these two testimonies – and without taking anything away either from their strength or their relevance -, it should be remembered that Christine Angot is first and foremost a writer and that incest is a kind of black sun which is on the horizon of all her work, often associated with the genre of autofiction – but of which she rejects the label, for various reasons.

First with Interview (Fayard, 1995), then with Incest in 1999, where she told, in a very modern literary form, the incestuous relationship between a narrator and her father. “How I became mad, you will understand, I hope,” she promised us.

Gestures that she resumed head-on, bordering on bearable, in A week of vacation (Flammarion, 2012), which exposed us to the subtle manipulation and perversion of a father abusing his teenage daughter. In An impossible love (Flammarion, 2015, December prize), she recounted the meeting between her parents, recounting among other things how her father abandoned his mother after she became pregnant.

Some may feel like they’ve read it or say it’s going over the same story. To these, for a long time already, she replies that she would have liked to have something else to tell. This time, if the facts, yes, are repeated and they are the same, but without the syncopated style that has long been hers, the writer makes a slight shift in perspective with The trip to the east, showing what role the silence and inaction of those around him may have played.

The year of her 13th birthday, during the summer holidays with her mother, she met her father in a hotel in Strasbourg, in eastern France. She had no memory of him and had never sought to meet him. When asked where her father was, she replied that he was dead. But her father agreed to “recognize” her and a new French law on filiation allowed in the aftermath to replace the mention “of unknown father” by the name of the father, and Christine Schwartz will become Christine Angot.

This elegant and cultivated man, speaking “thirty languages”, she will find him immediately “extraordinary”. “I had only seen this kind of man on television or in the movies. A little later, from their second meeting, he kisses her on the mouth. The escalation of acts continued rapidly, and the teenager was raped regularly by her father until the age of 16.

After a long break up, incest will resume a few years later. Same hold, same doubts, same violence. The absence of witnesses and the difficulty of proving the “ascendant rape”, the unbearable possibility of a “dismissal” as well as the guilt will prevent her, she explains, from filing a complaint. “I preferred to imagine that I had some responsibility rather than seeing myself as someone who suffers passively without doing anything. I built up guilt for myself. “

One thing is certain, the teenager wanted it to stop, wanted to have normal relations with her father. She told him so, but she was unable to oppose him. Incest, she writes, is “enslavement”, a violence that dynamites social relations, language, thought.

Speak ? From the start, she wrote, that was her intention: “I wanted to pass the information on. I did not see how. I couldn’t find the words that matched. They weren’t coming. The sentence did not form. The intention was there. It was crashing into a void. “

She will learn years later that an older man with whom she had a romantic relationship at 18 – to whom she had told what her father had done to her – had questioned her mother about it. Silence. Later, during the second half, in her late twenties, when she starts seeing her father again and they have sex again, Christine Angot’s own husband will witness it and never intervene. “Pretending, imagining, lying to myself, were my recourse. “

The story is dry, sometimes clinical, always implacable, without the slightest soliciting. In Incest, she wrote: “I punctuate my sentences in an unusual way, I will try to stop. My punctuation will only aim for clarity, so that people find their way around. The clarity of the subject. Let my words be clear, understood. “

With chilling clarity, The trip to the east questions the notion of consent and dismantles the mechanisms – intimate, family or legal – which allowed this slow and silent explosion at the heart of his life.

The writer also shows how what she lived left traces, “ransacked” her love life. But has she only experienced these things that she tells? Here is what she thinks: “Are we living them?” Are we there? We are here. We would rather not be there. But here we are. It’s not really living. These are not things that we experience. Not really. We are there. We look. Here, this is happening. “

With violent sobriety, giving us her twenty-third book, the story filled with “clarity” that she wanted to deliver for years, Christine Angot undoubtedly signs one of her strongest books.

The trip to the east


Christine Angot, Flammarion, Paris, 2021, 224 pages

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