Jealousy by Catherine Millet (3 stars)

Jealousy by Catherine Millet

The success of her 2002 memoir, The Sexual Life of Catherine M, propelled French art critic Catherine Millet into the spotlight as one of Europe’s most celebrated contemporary sexual libertines. Indeed, this blisteringly honest dissection of her numerous carnal conquests arguably paved the way for more recent, mainstream literary erotica, like Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands. Millet’s second confessional offering, Jealousy: The Other Life of Catherine M, examines the darker side of her pleasure-driven desires and the violent emotional and physical outcomes of the discovery that her long-term partner, Jacques Henric, is conducting explicit sexual affairs with other women.

As in The Sexual Life … , Millet abandons any sense of narrative structure in this rambling and detailed collection of philosophical musings on the nature of her jealousy, self-consciously and willingly compromising the extent to which the reader sympathises with her situation by admitting that she too has been sexually pursuing other men while in her relationship with Henric. But though her cold sense of detachment may have worked in her first memoir, the technique doesn’t ring true when dealing with a feeling as potentially exhaustive and ugly as jealousy.

Even so, its spellbindingly fluid prose makes this an absorbing tale. Descriptions of Catherine M’s intricate erotic fantasies play a particularly crucial role, evolving from the vividly satisfying to aggressively urgent. But ultimately, the book is exasperating in its unrelenting introspection, and its limp, unresolved ending is anticlimactic: a stark contrast to the many fulfilling encounters the author describes so lucidly throughout its pages.

(Serpent’s Tail)