Alice, the Sausage by Sophie Jabès

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Alice, the Sausage

Sophie Jabès, translated by Catherine Petit and Paul Buck

Why I Consider This Book Odd:
I initially heard about this book in the sadly ever-increasingly inactive LiveJournal community, Disturbing Books. (Check out the archives over there sometime.) It was every bit as insane and grotesque as I had been led to believe.

Type of work:

Published by Dedalus in 2007, this book is still in print. You can get a copy here:

: This book is a posthumanist hellhole. I say that with nothing but praise.

I could not have loved this book more. In an ocean of chicklit where women strive for beauty and true love at all costs, balancing careers and men and an oh-so-cute bumbling personality flaw, like overshopping or the tendency to be amusingly clumsy, Alice is an anti-heroine who completely destroys herself without ever looking back. Irrational, afraid, unable to see herself as she really is, she commits continual and irrevocable acts of mental and physical violence against herself until there is nothing left for her to do but commit the most lunatic act of degradation.

Alice begins this novella as a beautiful, aloof virgin until a visit with her father destroys her view of herself in a simple yet believable way. Her father tells her she is no Marilyn Monroe and that in order to get by in life she must be nice to men. Alice is lovely, and the reader never really knows why her father says this to her, but those words, uttered distractedly and likely with no greater goal behind them than unthinking misogyny, destroy her sense of self utterly. They create a chasm within Alice that she begins to fill with food, eating ravenously.

Seeking help and comfort, Alice turns to her mother, who is of no help. A vain woman clinging to youth, she dismisses Alice, telling her that as long as she removes all her body hair and doesn’t starve herself, she will be okay. Reeling, and still eating, Alice acts nice to men as her father instructs her, and picks up the first man who really responds to her. She has sex with him, inviting him to visit her the next day. He does return, has sex with her again, and leaves her money, creating a path Alice merrily skips down to her own destruction. She loses her job as a librarian and becomes a full-time whore.

Alice incorporates food and the obviously oral into her acts of prostitution, making the “ice cream cornet” the act that distinguishes her from other prostitutes. I’ll let the reader draw his or her own conclusions as to what an ice cream cornet as a sexual act entails. Alice incorporates food into her sex job, using the money to do nothing more than keep a roof over her head and food in her home.

Alice’s life degenerates. She still takes care of herself in the manner recommended by her mother – eating and removing body hair – but she sleeps all day when she is not performing sex acts, stops cleaning, becomes super-obese, and becomes so repellent that eventually her clients include only an elderly man who wants to take Alice away from her dank, unpleasant life, and a set of good-looking twins who escaped from an insane asylum, Fulvio and Flavio. She sexually services the twins and feeds them even though they have no money to pay her. When her mother steals the elderly client and runs off with him, Alice is left with only the twins, no source of income, and decides to sacrifice herself to crazy love. Eating until she can barely move, Alice plots her end. While I won’t spoil the ending entirely, the title alone should give it away.

The book, while disgusting to the extreme in sections, is also beguiling in its descriptions of the foods Alice crams into herself. The book even contains a glossary at the end so that the reader knows exactly what Italian delicacies it is Alice consumes. Pastas, pizzas, cheeses, sweets – the reader is tempted to join Alice in her consumption, as dark as we know the end will be if we do. But it is impossible not to be affected by the litany of foods recited in the book, making Alice’s end, though utterly insane, seem just a little bit attractive.

There is no hope in Alice’s transformation into something not quite human. She does transform, but in a horrible way, one without any hope in the future. Alice forces the reader to look hard at what it means to be a human being and how being human can go so terribly, terribly wrong. I am skirting the feminist issues raised in the book because they simply don’t interest me as much as the idea that Alice can only escape negative forces by becoming a monster and eradicating herself. It is hard to say if she has free will to become what she does and to do what she does, but the reader at times understands that Alice is in fact in control of her destiny, that she chooses the horrific life she assumes. In complete contradiction to the idea that humanity instinctively chooses life affirming activities and strives for happiness, Alice embraces disgusting, destructive forces she cannot control and that no one seems willing to save her from. At the end, it is difficult to see that Alice is still a human being, and indeed, she is so inanimate and passive that she does not seem human to the reader at times, her motivations and self-destruction foreign to all except the most mentally ill or nihilistic among us. Alice doesn’t even redefine what it means to be a human female in a difficult world. She simply gives in to a basic, gnawing, insecure atavism that renders her humanity worthless.

Posthumanist hellhole. I love this book. It makes up for every fey, twee, charming little bit of girlie-fic I have ever read. For once, beauty, the right clothes, a clever but plain girlfriend, and the love of a good man cannot save the heroine. For once, disaster is not averted. For once, there is no heart warming end to the book that begins with a gorgeous blonde with an excellent career picking out the right clothes to wear while waiting for Mr. Right. It feels good.