2015 Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of the Year
2015 National Post’s Top 99 Books of the Year
Rose Dubois and Julie O’Brien find themselves on the roof of a Montreal apartment building on a scorching summer’s day, and from that moment on their fates are intertwined. Worldwide climate change and dramatic shifts in weather patterns foreshadow their predestined suffering.
As is soon revealed, the two women share a submissive love for the same man, Charles. Their mutual desire creates an arms race of artificial beauty and debasement; they have a common obsession for plastic surgery and strive to be avatars of the perfect female.
As they compete for the love and attention of Charles, both women come to realize that to accept being nothing more than an object, to kneel and grovel before your persecutor, you ultimately become his executioner. In the end, Charles’ own obsessions and desires—which he loathes—are ultimately his undoing and downfall.
PRAISE FOR BREAKNECK
“… With the publication of BREAKNECK this month (A Ciel ouvert, 2007), the small Canadian publisher Anvil Press concludes its project of publishing all of Arcan’s novels in translation. […] Fantastically intelligent, always trying to second-guess how a woman should be, Arcan finds death the only answer to her predicament. In style and emotion—and honesty—her work is a much closer cousin to Edouard Leve’s Suicide than to the archness of Belle de Jour or Catherine Millet. The best way to absorb Arcan’s work is to read it in chronological order, and then to lament that the titles of her work—Whore, Hysteric, Breakneck, Exit—so succinctly and poignantly summarize the short life and hard-won philosophy of this exceptional writer.”
—The Times Literary Supplement
“Sexually explicit, Breakneck is a masterfully written, but disturbing, cautionary tale.”
“Breakneck is an unflinching, often outlandish look at female extremity in the matters of the heart, exposing how female rivals often share the same flaws. This is sisterhood, in Arcan’s formation, ‘at the bottom of the barrel.’”
—Tamara Faith Berger, The National Post
“Breakneck is above all else an anxious novel, swimming in an excess of intoxicants and physical extremes, bouncing back and forth between personal improvement and destruction. It is ‘troubling and filled with pleasure’—a phrase one of the women uses to describe her developing romance with Charles. Arcan’s frenetic, even disturbing prose—here in translation by Jacob Homel—mimics the book’s title, strong-arming its reader into an intense philosophical examination of vanity and excess. What risks coming across as a shallow narrative benefits from the incredibly thoughtful introspection that has come to define Arcan’s unique world. The late Quebec writer readily understood the all-consuming depths of what we often wrongly deem as superficial.”
—Stacey May Fowles, Quill & Quire
“Breakneck is Arcan’s only novel written in the third person. It chronicles two women as they compete for the attention of one man by whatever means necessary. Each woman reinvents herself through iterative plastic surgery and sexual debasement. If it were possible to collapse all of Arcan’s work into a set of thematic interests, they would be as follows: love, sex, female subjugation, psychotherapy, beauty, suicide. But it is not possible.”
—Emily Keeler, The National Post
“Breakneck explores, in brilliant and breathless fashion, the failings of the omnipresence of the perfect feminine body.”
—Sandrine Mariette, Elle
“Cruel, acerbic and disillusioned, the author’s pen is as generous as the statement is cruel.”
—Juliette Ruer, Styles de vie
“Nelly speaks here about our world with great intelligence. She is perhaps one of our most ferociously observant writers…”
—Michel Vézina, Ici
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.