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Detachment in Fiction from Fleur Jaeggy and Jean Genet

Fleur Jaeggy’s fiction works, two short novels and two short story collections, are marked with a quiet violence and a very particular brand of detachment. Importantly, though her characters operate through various calibres of neurosis, they do not experience their melancholy or habitual pain as opposites to a preferred, more buoyant state. The world they occupy, then, unfolds at a slight removal from our own: it is a place where alienation, dysfunction, and disappointment are unquestioned, non-negotiable terms.

These terms, which dictate their inner lives and exterior relationships alike, endure even in light of tragedy and violence. In the titular final story of the collection Last Vanities, the elderly Verena Kuster witnesses her husband jump to his death from a window in their home. Later, she reflects, ‘To push one’s husband out of the window, using no more than words, persuasion, is a form of spirituality.’ Bereaved, it is not grief that takes hold of her but a devotional transformation: ‘She felt sure of the ways she held herself now, enjoyed a certain sensual pleasure… She had finally entered into her body.’  

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Sue Rainsford