My Phantom Husband

Year: 
1998

 A seven year marriage, a husband who is big and strong, who earns the money, who tends to the chores, who gives advice, who chooses the books; in short, a husband who does everything. One evening after work he leaves their apartment to buy the bread and does not return. My Phantom Husband relates the response of his wife to this loss, initially her physical reactions, and then the mental ones. Like the heroine/narrator of Pig Tales, the protagonist of Marie Darrieussecq's second novel is poorly equipped to deal with harsh reality. But while the former is a simple young woman, not well educated and unemployed at the start of the story, the protagonist of My Phantom Husband is well educated, well read and comes from comparatively privileged surroundings. One is led to ask the question: why are these women victims? One becomes a pig, the other perhaps a madwoman. In both novels, and especially in My Phantom Husband, the mother plays an important role, and perhaps in investigating the mother/daughter relation one might find some answers to that question.
     If Pig Tales has roots in The Metamorphosis of Kafka (the mutation of course, but more importantly the attitude of the person subjected to the mutation), it is possible to read the section of My Phantom Husband when the mother and daughter are together as one reads The Judgement, where Georges Bendamann, faced with the consuming power of his father, can no longer exist. The pitiable young woman says of her mother: "At the end of an hour and a half with her I am six years old; it's easy to calculate that I would lose about a year about every five minutes, and at this rate it would be totally impossible for me to remain in her company for more than two hours without facing the prospect of annihilation or fetal senility."
     And, as with a reading of Pig Tales, this mother-daughter theme is only one among many which provide an alluring richness to the reader willing to follow the complexities of My Phantom Husband.

Bruce Fickett