Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Guérillères – Monique Wittig

This book tells of a future war between the sexes and celebrates the women who took part and the society they subsequently create. It was far from being the first novel to examine such a subject. It was the first to lift it from the misogynistic realms of lurid pulp fiction. This, in itself, is sufficient to mark it out as a landmark piece of fiction.

But Monique Wittig has gone way beyond this, for she has written in a manner in keeping with the new society she depicts. Early in the novel, we are told of a book that women carry known as a feminary. Essentially, it is a notebook containing printed inscriptions in which women write down thoughts, descriptions, and the like. The novel is exactly that.

Set out like an epic prose poem, like a Vedic collection of hymns, the book is a series of short, intense passages. Seemingly disjointed, these weave slowly together to create a rich tapestry that relates the story of the war and the lives of women after hostilities are over. The whole piece is mythical in quality, sometimes dreamlike, always a celebration. Certainly the descriptions of women in their new society are powerful, passionate, loving depictions of a people finally free of the slavery to which they have so long been subjected.

For me, this is writing at its best – passion, art, and exacting technique working together to produce a beautifully flowing text. It is a transcendent piece of fiction. There is, after all, a strong feminist message here, but we are never lectured. There is a vibrant sense of a new society about which we are told nothing and shown everything. There is poetry. There is a sense of otherness. It is a shame that Monique Wittig published so little. It a cause for celebration that she gave us this remarkable book.