Maître Susane is a quiet middle-aged lawyer living a modest existence in Bordeaux, known to all as a consummate and unflappable professional. But when Gilles Principaux shows up at her office asking her to defend his wife, who is accused of a horrific crime, Maître Susane begins to crack. She seems to remember having been alone with him in her youth for a significant event, one her mind obsesses over but can't quite reconstruct. While this mystery preoccupies Maître Susane, at home she is increasingly concerned about Sharon, her faithful but peculiar housekeeper. Sharon arrived from Mauritius with her husband and children, and she lacks legal residency in France. But while Maître Susane has generously offered Sharon her professional services, the housekeeper always finds ways to evade her, claiming the marriage certificate Maître Susane requires is being held hostage. Is Sharon being honest with Maître Susane, or is something more sinister going on?
The characters in Marie NDiaye’s novels are an unsettling brood ... A master at agitating, probing and upending expectations ... She presents a new litter of misfits and constructs one of her most beguiling and visceral tales ... NDiaye deals in impressions and captures a particular kind of emotional delirium in Vengeance. She leans into jaggedness, twisting her narrative to mimic Maître Susane’s fraying psychological state as she searches for a kind of truth.
A story of class conflict embedded within a psychological thriller, is scattered with interpretive hints, clues to the crimes of contemporary French society. Though it starts with a date on the calendar, the story works like a map ... In this elegantly layered tale of social stratification, NDiaye takes us through a maze of alleyways, backstreets, and elegant foyers, until we are dizzy from trying to chart the course of upward mobility and eager for a place to rest—a way out rather than in ... NDiaye treats politics and the material conditions it creates as forces that lead to unpredictable, idiosyncratic outcomes. She never lets her characters be flattened to make a point.
The central ideas in Vengeance Is Mine are, thrillingly, as difficult to pin down as the identities of its characters. In one light, it’s a scathing look at the simmering desperation provoked by France’s rigid structures of authority and power. But it’s also an uber-feminist rewriting of a plot made familiar by texts from Medea ... In the hands of a less skilled writer, that ambiguous mix might feel forced, or like an evasive way out of thinking rigorously about a challenging psychological subject. But NDiaye...is a poet of uncertainty. Her ability to simultaneously embody all the fractured parts of a character’s mind makes aspects of Susane’s spiral that might otherwise seem unbelievable...come across as engrossingly, utterly human.