Burqa of Skin is a dense collection of writings from Nelly Arcan, channelling harrowing disenchantment and indignation. From her very first novel, Putain (Seuil, 2001), Arcan shook the literary landscape with her flamboyant lyricism and her preoccupations with such recurring themes as our culture’s vertiginous obsession with youth, and its reverse: the draw of death. Now beyond the ripples of scandal Arcan’s work has caused, here are the last echoes of her work, and it is as stunning as it is brief.
Burqa of Skin, with its gruesome title, catapults her work into contemporary debates on culture and gender. The book collects three previously unpublished works: “The Dress,” “The Child in the Mirror” and “Shame.” The first two are written in the first person, in that turbulent, suffocating language that was Arcan’s singular brand, that of a writer on the edge. In the third text, she analyses with inexhaustible ferocity her humiliating experience on the set of a TV talk show. Two lesser-known non-fiction pieces are also included in this collection: a reflection on speed dating and a column published in 2004 titled “Suicide Can Be Harmful to Your Health.”
Nelly Arcan was born in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Her first novel Putain (2001; Whore, 2004, Grove Press), drawing on her experience working in the sex trade in Montreal, caused a sensation and enjoyed immediate critical and media success. It was a finalist for both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Femina, two of France’s most prestigious literary awards. Two more novels followed, establishing her as a literary star in Quebec and France: Folle (2004), also nominated for the Prix Femina; and À ciel ouvert (2007). She is also the author of an illustrated book on the beauty myth for young girls: L’enfant dans le miroir (2007).
Paradis, clef en main (Exit) was her fourth novel and was completed just days before she committed suicide in 2009 at the age of thirty-six.