The epistolary novel, apparently a relic of bygone times, is currently experiencing its resurrection as a contemporary social media novel. This is the case with the current bestseller "Between Worlds" by Juli Zeh and Simon Urban, in which two old university friends have a violent exchange of blows via e-mails and WhatsApp messages.
In the new novel "Dear Asshole" by the French writer Virginie Despentes, it is a writer, an actress and a young feminist blogger who shred Instagram posts on all sorts of hot social topics.
Since the social media channels are notorious for their wild language fury, the escalation seems inevitable. But surprisingly Despentes, the "enfant terrible" of French literature, known for her uncompromisingness and fearlessness, strikes an unusually forgiving tone in her new novel. Instead of hate and anger, understanding and friendship prevail between the very different protagonists. A civilized approach, so the message, seems quite feasible even in the digital age.
At Insta, shreds fly
In the beginning, however, things get intense. A humble writer, Oscar has achieved some fame. Until the day blogger Zoé launched a MeToo campaign against him after being stalked by Oscar. He, in turn, turns out to be the unreasonable "asshole" she denounces. Not only does he follow Zoé, he also insults actress Rebecca Latté on his Instagram account. This beauty he once adored "has now degenerated into a slut. Not just old. She's also broken up, worn out, bad skin, a dingy, loud woman. A single catastrophe."
But the "bitch" pays him back in the same coin. "Dear asshole," she writes, "I saw your post on Insta. You're like a pigeon that shits on my shoulder as it flies by. It's dirty and very uncomfortable. Beep, beep, beep, I'm a little scaredy-cat , which no one cares about, and whines like a chihuahua because I dream about being noticed. Glory to social media."
Of course, Despentes' novel comes as a rather belated contribution to the MeToo debate. After all, the Weinstein scandal was already in 2017. However, it must be said that this debate reached France with a certain time lag. Despentes also strikes a chord in her home country because she sets her novel in the artistic and media milieu. It was there that the most violent MeToo scandals had emerged in recent years, with longtime star TV presenter Patrick Poivre d'Arvor being accused by women of molesting and raping them. The topic is still driving French society.
It's also about aging and Corona
However, MeToo is only one of several socially relevant topics that the novel touches on. It's also very much about various addictions - with Oscar it's alcohol, with Rebecca heroin, it's about aging in the film business and last but not least about Corona, because the story is set in the lockdown period.
The initial digital bullying turns into leniency over time. Oscar, the "dear asshole", appears remorseful and insightful. He even asks Zoé for forgiveness. Both Oscar and Rebecca end up confronting their addictions as well.
Is that too much harmony? Perhaps. But Virginie Despentes has succeeded in developing the characters quite convincingly, as it is easy for her to slip into the very different roles. The book is sometimes rough and grumpy, then again almost soft and understanding, but always entertaining.
Virginie Despentes: Dear asshole, Kiepenheuer
information about the book