Justine Lévy, daughter of the headline-grabbing French philosopher and “public intellectual” Bernard-Henri Lévy (known in France as BHL), is once again in the news with a new novel from Paris’ Stock publishers, “Mauvaise fille” (Bad Daughter ).
Like her previous books, “Mauvaise fille” is not really a “roman à clef” because no “clef” (key) is required to figure out who are the real-life characters being described. The expected fictional veneer is less than paper thin. “Mauvaise fille” recounts Lévy’s troubled relationship with her mother, a former model and drug abuser Isabelle Doutreluigne, who died of cancer four years ago. After a low-key 1995 novel “Le Rendez-vous” (The Rendezvous) analyzing her parents’ bumpy marriage, which was unevenly translated into English by Lydia Davis for Scribner, Lévy won widespread media attention with her second novel, “Rien de Grave” (published as “Nothing Serious” by Melville House.
“Nothing Serious” describes how the Italian model and aspiring singer Carla Bruni, now married to France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy, had an affair with Lévy’s father-in-law Jean-Paul Enthoven, a French-Jewish journalist. As that ended, Bruni’s affections transferred to her lover’s son, Lévy’s then-husband Raphaël Enthoven, a philosophy professor and radio personality. “Nothing Serious” calls Bruni “The Terminator” and claims that Bruni’s face was constructed by computer in a plastic surgeon’s office, among other, even less complimentary, remarks.
Self-serious as ever, Lévy offers no comparable juicy scandals in “Mauvaise fille,” which nevertheless doggedly tries to blame her mother, instead of Bruni this time, for why, despite being rich, famous, and beautiful, Lévy should nevertheless feel depressed. Speaking of her Mother, Lévy writes: “That’s that, she’s dead. I should feel relieved, but I am not relieved.” Should we be?
Watch Justine Lévy offer local French TV a “good reason for reading” (she has, apparently, yet to be asked to offer a good reason for writing).
Watch a November 18 Justine Lévy public appearance at the FNAC Montparnasse, Paris, below.