‘The Confession’ by Leïla Slimani

The Confession by Leïla Slimani, 2019

The magic trick:

Telling the story of a heinous act from the point of view of the perpetrator

Truly, this is a Moroccan story. But it was written in French. And it’s really good, so I’m happy to use this France week as the platform for discussion.

The narrator here is reflecting on his childhood and recalling a terrible act he did. It’s the kind of thing that is very rarely told from the point of view of the perpetrator, and the result of that narrative choice is interesting. I found that it lessened the sense of pure evil we might ascribe to his character. I wouldn’t call that sympathy. But I did find myself viewing him with more nuance than I might have had the story been told by the victim. What heightened were my feelings of scorn for the society. The blame doesn’t go away by hearing the story from his point of view. It just gets spread around more.

And that’s quite a trick on Slimani’s part.

The selection:

The old women said nothing. They just lowered their eyes. I imagine they were praying for the soul of that young peasant girl. I listened with interest to conversations about the mysterious vagabond, always on the alert for any new information. That sordid tale, whose protagonist lived new adventures every day, was my only source of entertainment. During the days, as I halfheartedly helped look after the animals, I would listen for the latest rumor, passed from mouth to mouth, growing more exaggerated and distorted with each telling.

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