Pretty Things

Claudine needs Pauline to come to Paris.

After years of trying to be famous, Claudine has decided to become a pop star. She knows she looks like a pop star, she walks down the street like a pop star—every part of her body, head to toe, screams pop star to the gaping people she passes, every part except her vocal cords.

It’s her twin sister, who renounces all oppressive standards of beauty and couldn’t imagine shaving her legs, who can actually sing.

Claudine and Pauline loathe each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help each other help themselves.

There’s a punky, grungy vibe to Virginie Despentes’s Pretty Things, published in France in the ’90s and recently translated for Feminist Press by Emma Ramadan.

The sisters need Claudine’s friend Nathan to pull off their little scam, Nathan who fancies himself a manager-type that can make everything happen. Pauline sees through him instantly, though that doesn’t mean he won’t be useful: When she calls him and asks him to come over after a pivotal moment past which no rational person would proceed, he agrees. “As she expected he would. As he will agree to all the rest. He’s that kind of guy, always incapable of doing the right thing, attracted to bad choices and fascinated by chaos. She understands perfectly what he’s like, what he can be used for.”

Part of the fun of this profane, campy-smart tale is in the twists, which are spoiled in even the most innocuous online summaries. (There’s just one line on the book cover itself: “A pulpy tale of mismatched twins struggling to embody the ‘perfect woman.’”)

Between the twists and trysts, Despentes has a lot to say about Pauline-as-Claudine stepping into femininity as drag, alternately aghast and moved by what she learns loping through the world in towering heels as her sister. PLEASE READ

Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated by Emma Ramadan, from Feminist Press