“She remembers watching her grandmother retreat from the world in the same way, adrift somewhere far out at sea, her body still present, but her gaze more and more distant.”
In Loiuse Mey’s novel, The Second Woman, Sandrine is happy for the first time in her life. Ironically, her happiness is born in tragedy. She now lives a quiet, domestic life with Monsieur Langlois and his young son Matthias. Sandrine met Langlois after seeing the news that his wife, Caroline, had gone missing while out on a run in the forest. Caroline’s husband made an appeal for information about his wife on the television, and during the appeal, he started to cry. This struck Sandrine to the core, and so when an opportunity arose to join the “white walk” looking for the missing wife, Sandrine volunteered.
As Caroline’s grief-stricken parents hand out flyers with their daughter’s pictures, Sandrine sees Langlois and offers her support. Unlike other men who have only certain animalistic ways of looking at her, Langlois smiles at Sandrine. And so Sandrine spends the afternoon walking in the forest with Langlois and Matthias while Langlois askes Sandrine about her work, her life, her (lack of ) friends and her interests. Of course for the reader, there are already alarm bells, but Sandrine, whose horrible life has left her emotionally scarred, doesn’t pick up on the clues.
When the novel opens, Sandrine’s happiness is about to pulled away from her as it seems that Caroline has been found, an amnesiac, in Italy. Caroline has no memory of who she is, can’t even remember her name, or she ended up naked in Italy while her clothes, covered in diesel fuel, ended up in a field near her home. Langlois seems decidedly less-than-thrilled at the news that his wife may be alive, but Caroline’s parents are convinced that their daughter has been found and so they drive to meet this mystery woman.
Meanwhile, Sandrine waits for Langlois to tell her she must go… but oddly he doesn’t. He doesn’t even discuss the current difficult situation. He becomes sullen, uncommunicative. The police visit repeatedly and Langlois, under pressure and living with incredible tension, begins to show another side of himself.
This is a clever, short novel which explores the complexities and various phases of domestic violence. At the end of the novel, the author’s note contains a very concise description of exactly what we have seen between Sandrine and Langlois. Sandrine, subject to childhood abuse, falls right back into the role of ‘not being good enough,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘fat,’ and everything ‘her fucking fault.’ Langlois spotted Sandrine as the ‘perfect woman’ … insecure, low self-esteem, poor self-image, no family, no friends, desperate to please. These predators can spot their next victims easily.
This was not an easy read as the sense of dread builds towards inevitable violence, and there’s also a feeling of stifling suffocation, intense claustrophobia in this decreasing circle of independent thought and action. Abusers create what I call a greenhouse and then put their victim inside that greenhouse–which the predator then controls. In terms of recreating the atmosphere of the stages of abuse, the author does a brilliant job. Still… not an easy read, but then that’s the point.
Translated by Louise Rogers LaLaurie
You must be logged in to post a comment.