Written in emotional, stream-of-consciousness prose, Incest can often feel agitated and erratic, perfectly capturing the shattered inner world of its narrator, who is suggested throughout to be the author herself. As she blurs the lines between reality and fiction, Angot insists upon unsettling her reader, in terms of her meta approach, her taboo material and her polemic style. Together, these elements deliver a devastating exploration into the self-loathing and the disturbing paradoxes of human desire. While her work may trouble readers with its brutal physicality and trembling honesty, the power of these reactions speak most directly to its successes. In refusing to shy away from controversial content, Incest challenges, disgusts and confounds, making it a moving and memorable contribution to contemporary literature.
The intertextuality and the slippery subjectivity of the narrator could have been demanding, as well as the peculiar structures and punctuation, which even the author acknowledges. The 'bits of flesh' that Christine Angot left out on the pages to dry must have been fragile and resistant to translation. Nevertheless, Tess Lewis has attested her capacity to twist and turn in and through language ... The translator masterfully developed an intuitive relationship with the work of Christine Angot, endowing the English words with vibrating affectivity and ruptures ... Christine Angot’s book triggered both lauding and severe criticism, creating a work worth talking about; shedding light on issues that are not easily comprehensible—taboos—not from the position of an expert but from her own particularity, her own manner of writing. Voices echoing from the fractures, this is Incest: a collective adventure for the one that writes and the ones that read.
For her raw rage and talent Angot is immensely admirable, but she is never cuddly or affable. Queer readers of L’Inceste might bristle immediately at her repeated insistence that she was 'homosexual' for only three months. In the book’s second sentence she actually says she was 'condemned' to be so. Angot often analyzes feelings and situations until her words disintegrate into a Gertrude Stein–like babble. In disintegrating and attempting desperately to reintegrate, Angot examines the process of writing—of expression—itself, along with every twist and turn of an obsessed, violated, powerless mind. The book is insanely alive, jolting the reader awake, daring to the reader fight to it; the reader emerges from these challenges dazed but uncertain who has 'won.'
From an artistic point of view, I must commend the translator, Tess Lewis, for resisting the urge to force Angot’s narrative into coherent and clear prose. Rather, her English translation of Incest strives to replicate the same frazzled reading experience as the original French ... it will be for English readers to decide whether navigating Incest’s murkiest passages and disturbing subject matter is worth the price to experience Angot’s searing vision.
It can take patience to stick with Angot through this structurally perverse expression of suffering. Early on, she describes calling Marie-Christine 200 times in the span of a few days ‘to see if she loves me to exhaustion, as she claims.’ At times, the reader feels similarly tested when trying to make sense of the repeating images and narrative chaos. But submitting to the logic (or illogic) of Angot’s world ultimately gives the thrilling sense of having melded with another consciousness, since it requires an almost complete abandonment of your own—in another nod to incest, this book often feels like its own referent … At its core, Incest is a true testament to the subversive power of literature, in that it transmutes the violation of incest into connection with the reader.
The mind that emerges is vivid, painfully human, and indeed fascinating. That said, this is an untidy book, as Angot’s writing is as erratic as it is cathartic, covering content so personal that it can be difficult to decipher.