- Narratives of Mothering: Women's Writing in Contemporary France
Adopting a broadly thematic structure, Gill Rye's timely study on narratives of mothering examines twelve contemporary female-authored French texts. Rye's work analyses two texts per chapter, an approach that both facilitates textual dialogue and makes for easy readerly consultation. Rye perceives a recent, post-1990 emergence of works that, rather than portray the mother from filial perspectives, are texts 'where the mother is herself either the first-person narrative subject or, in third-person narratives, the figure whose point of view is paramount' (p. 17). Rye usefully differentiates between 'motherhood' and 'mothering' in her study: while the former is employed to designate the ideological and discursive norms associated with the 'institution', the latter places emphasis on each individual's multiple lived experiences; Rye valorizes the [End Page 510] gerund's inherent potential for ongoing adaptability. Narratives of Mothering falls into three parts: in Part I, Rye provides the sociopolitical, theoretical, and literary contexts — both French and Anglo-American — for her study, partly attributing the increase in French narratives of mothering to a 'weakening of psychoanalysis as the dominant French theoretical paradigm — a paradigm that hitherto had offered little space for the mother's voice' (p. 37). Rye comments on the recent social and reproductive/technological changes to have affected French women's experience of mothering, changes reflected in the evolving familial permutations of 'single mothers, postdivorce families, homosexual family groupings' (p. 16). While new ways of experiencing mothering may necessitate new ways of writing it, as the title of Part II intimates — 'Mothering: Loss, Trauma, Separation' — the resultant narratives are somewhat bleak: texts examined, which represent more conventional family structures, portray mothers either losing children immediately after childbirth (Camille Laurens's Philippe) or years later (Laure Adler's À ce soir); they foreground either the trauma of childbirth (Christine Angot's Interview) or miscarriage (Leïla Marouane's Le Châtiment des hypocrites). At best, mothering is an ambivalent undertaking fuelled by a (dis)empowering dynamics (Marie Ndiaye's La Sorcière and Chantal Chawaf 's La Sanction). As Rye forewarns: 'It may be a truism to say that happiness does not produce a good story, but the most striking finding in my reading for this project has been the number of mothering narratives that express loss of some kind or relate to trauma' (p. 18). In Part III, focusing on non-nuclear family arrangements, things improve only slightly with (atypical) representations of guilt-free mothering (Marie Darrieussecq's Le Mal de mer and Angot's Léonore, toujours), as well as portrayals of single mothers who lose custody of their child (Geneviève Brisac's Week-end de chasse à la mère), or indeed murder them (Véronique Olmi's Bord de mer). Rye perceives a glimmer of maternal hope in the humorous textual representations of lesbian mothering (Éliane Girard's Mais qui va garder le chat?; Myriam Blanc's et elles eurent beaucoup d'enfants . . .: Histoire d'une famille homoparentale), a mothering whose current mutability 'work[s] toward the project of remodeling the family in France in a particularly positive way' (p. 138). Overall, it would seem that, whatever the extratextual renegotiations of paradigms of mothering in contemporary France, depressingly few fictional works have yet to demonstrate that '[w]hat is utopian or transgressive in life can be productively explored in the Cixousian "elsewhere" of literature' (p. 153). Narratives of Mothering makes a seminal contribution to the critical assessment of what is still, after all, the postpartum period in the lifespan of these narratives.