Kouchner adds, “My grandmother killed herself soon after that.”
It’s the second funeral in the book — “a militant, heartbroken crowd who’d come to pay tribute to my grandmother’s freedom to kill herself.” The suicide leaves Camille’s mother an alcoholic shell. She drinks herself blind every night: “This is absolutely not up for discussion. It’s my freedom.”
The book is a sharply focused portrait of a certain kind of privileged French family of its era, first revolutionary and then bourgeois: their sexual mores, their thirst for power and fame, the collateral damage to children. The violation of her brother is explained, midbook, in one sentence: “He started stroking me, and then, you know …”
From this point, the narrator’s voice ages as she comes to understand what this means, and the book takes on aspects of a psychological thriller. The twins keep the secret for years. At last, fearful for the safety of their own children, strangled by a “hydra” of guilt and shame, they confide in other members of their family, to decidedly mixed reaction.
The book finishes, effectively, in the most adult voice of all, that of the law. Camille Kouchner addresses her stepfather directly, reciting the text of the French penal code on incest. “Let’s be clear about this,” she writes:
Article 222—31—1 of the criminal code
Rape and sexual assaults are classified as incestuous when committed by:
1) an ascendant;
2) a brother, a sister, an uncle, an aunt, a nephew, or a niece;
3) or any other person, including a partner or family member, havinglegal or de facto control overthe victim.
Claire Berlinski is the editor in chief of The Cosmopolitan Globalist. She lives in Paris.
THE FAMILIA GRANDE, by Camille Kouchner | Translated by Adriana Hunter | 214 pp. Other Press. | $24.