Book review: Consent by Vanessa Springora
Springora’s ‘shocking’ memoir about her abuse at the hands of the novelist Gabriel Matzneff
Vanessa Springora’s “shocking” and “rapier-sharp” memoir (which first appeared a year ago in France) details her abuse, long ago, by a man “lionised for decades by the French establishment”, said Melanie Reid in The Times: the novelist Gabriel Matzneff. The pair first met at a dinner party in the mid-1980s, when Springora was 13 and Matzneff was nearly 50. She was “instantly infatuated” by the eminent writer, and they began a sexual relationship, which was largely conducted in a hotel room he rented near her school. Springora eventually learnt that Matzneff was sleeping with other minors, and ended the affair when she was 16. After that, she “spent many years in self-destructive darkness, unable to understand that she was a victim”. Recently, however, her life has become more stable. And rather than suing Matzneff, or pressing charges, she decided, as she puts it, “to take the hunter to his own trap, to lock him in a book”.
Matzneff’s preferences were never a secret, said Melanie McDonagh in the London Evening Standard. He was a member of the ’68 generation, for whom the right to “untrammelled sexual self-expression” often extended to a taste for the “pubescent young”. Many of his novels depict paedophile relationships, and in 1977 he penned a letter to Le Monde (of which Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were also signatories) calling for relationships between adults and young teenagers to be legalised. Public opinion in France has now turned against such attitudes, said Lauren Elkin in The Guardian. And Springora’s memoir, which is written with “admirable restraint”, has itself been a part of that reckoning. Thanks to the “furore” it caused, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation. Matzneff, now 84, is “set to stand trial in September this year”.
Fourth Estate 208pp £12.99; The Week Bookshop £9.99
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