Exquisite Corpse by French author artist Penelope Bagieu originally published in France was both more and less than I wanted it to be. It’s the story of a struggling girl in her twenties who has a shitty boyfriend, a shitty job being a booth babe and no real direction. Zoe strikes up a so unlikely it’s almost unbelievable friendship with an older writer whose hiding a pretty big secret… the faked his death kind of secret.
I don’t normally read books about vapid women and I found it hard to like Zoe but god did I identify with her. Zoe is not a manic pixie dream girl but that’s what Thomas wants her to be. When his writers block seems to be cured after spending time with Zoe he builds her up as his artistic muse. Only as she painfully learns pedestals are lonely places. Artistic selfishness is an important theme in the novel. Thomas loves Zoe but he loves himself more. He thinks that by deeming her his Muse he’s paying tribute to her by ignoring her for his art. And at first Zoe does feel special because in one light what Thomas is doing is a beautiful thing. However he takes it to far, what he deems tribute is really a cover for narcissism. Zoe inspires him but what he want’s people to marvel at isn’t what she brings out in him artistically but his great genius. He can’t understand why Zoe isn’t content to just marvel at him, her want for a real life doesn’t concern him.
I liked the power dynamics at play in this novel. Thomas thinks he can control Zoe because she is younger and he feels less intelligent because she’s clearly not the book reading type. Zoe, with a little help from Agatha, Thomas’s “widow”, is able to flip the script and gain control of her situation and her life. She able to pull the wool over Thomas’s eyes because he never did see her clearly. He underestimates her and he pays for it.
Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of the ending or the overall pacing. I thought the beginning kind of plodded along which is odd considering how rushed the ending felt. I was reading this on my iPad and when I got to the ending I literally thought my app had broken because I kept trying to scroll to the next page. The story has an overly neat ending, kind of a haha well clearly he’s learned his lesson ride off into the sunset deal. I guess it was wrong of me to hope for some nuance from a character as shallow as Zoe. I can’t really tell you what would have been a satisfying ending but I know the kind of Lesbian overtones were a really false note. Those particular characters hooking up doesn’t make sense given everything that comes between them earlier in the story. It seemed like an unnecessary twist or I don’t know maybe it’s just a french thing. It’s possible some things got lost in translation but I was really looking for more depth from pretty much every part of this tale. The story was good but it could have been so much better.