The Collection by Nina Leger

She walks up the boulevard. But she changes direction, crosses, and the broken angle of her path is sharp enough to puncture the space like a nail that catches on a piece of fabric and tears along its length”

A mini review of this short novel which lingered with me long after I had finished it. It is safe to say that this novella, translated from its original French, will be unlike anything you have read before or will after. 

Let’s begin with the main character (or perhaps I should say characters). First we have Jeanne about whom we learn very little throughout; no back story, nothing about how she makes her living or what has truly led her to act the way she does. Leger teases us with some possible circumstances or backstories, which the narrator quickly dismisses.  

And then we have “The Collection” which gives the book its name. So any guesses as to what this Collection is made up of? Apparently the cover should give you some clues. 

Jeanne is on a quest to explore her own sexual desire, one anonymous sexual encounter at a time. She takes her male partners to hotel rooms, she has a number of preferred hotels, and departs discreetly ensuring no further liaisons. She seems particularly fond of fellatio, which gives her the perfect opportunity memorise each detail of the penises she … encounters. 

That done she then stores them in some sort of “mind palace” which she frequently revisits. Names and faces she forgets but apparently she never forgets a dick. 

Her desire is at times so all-consuming that Jeanne is physically overcome. What I loved about this story was the way her desire was explored, it’s not often that a novel is solely focused on a woman’s pursuit of sexual gratification. Even the much lauded Three Women did not so successfully cover this topic. We also see a women unashamedly assessing a man’s anatomy in minute (and sometimes cringeworthy) detail, rather than it being the other way around. 

Just like Three Women we see that this pursuit of desire is judged harshly, much more harshly that a man would be, by her peers and other women. 

The thing that sets this novella apart, aside from the subject matter, is the evocative and lyrical language used by Leger. Her prose takes this sparsely plotted story to another level. 

I came away from reading The Collection thinking “What the hell have I just read?” but with a little perspective I realised that this could be one of the most interesting and challenging books I have read this year.   

It’s also one of the first books I have read in translation in ages and I want to read more.. Do you have any recommendations for me?

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