“She wants to forget this day. That’s allowed.
She does that sometimes, some days don’t count.”
Sandrine is a legal secretary. She is bright, but very much a loner. She has zero self-esteem, and is severely emotionally damaged from her abusive childhood and her own unloving parents. Sandrine avoids mirrors, and abhors her own reflection. When she sees a man on television appealing for the whereabouts of his missing wife, her heart goes out to him. ‘A man who cries‘, with a young son…
Sandrine meets the man and becomes embroiled in his life. She moves in and keeps his house and cares for his withdrawn young son, Mathias. She becomes very fond of Mathias, but the little boy is slightly wary of her and says little.
The man is very controlling. He monitors her movements, her food intake, her email, her bank accounts. He makes Sandrine uncomfortable with his myriad rules and pontifications. She endures this contentedly though, until one day the ‘first woman’, the wife of the ‘man who cries’, returns to claim her son.
This is a whole new scenario. The ‘man who cries’ has turned into Monsieur Langlois.
“She tells herself that sometimes the body dances on
when the head has forgotten the steps.”
I took part in the Pushkin Press read-along for this title and it was very interesting to glean other reader’s thoughts on the novel.
This was an intense story that was often uncomfortable to read. Nevertheless, I was engrossed in Sandrine’s untenable situation. At first I found her constant self-denigration to be tedious, but as I came to know her better, I liked her a bit better and sympathized with her plight. By the end of the book, I loved Sandrine.
This is a disturbing portrait of spousal abuse. It is about coercive, manipulative, control over another person. Monsieur Langlois was a cruel egotist, a proprietorial man who was totally devoid of empathy. Sandrine learned to be obedient, silent, and aware of every nuance of HIS moods and mannerisms.
I loved the way Sandrine came to care for the small boy, and how she learned the limits of her own strength.
The ending was fitting, though some might consider it a tad ambiguous. In this instance, I believe the reader must decide for themselves certain aspects of the resolution. Your heart might be healthier that way.
“The Second Woman” was an remarkable read that will remain in my memory for some time. Highly recommended.This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Pushkin Press via NetGalley in order that I might participate in their read-along for the title on Instagram.
Publication date: September 2, 2021 Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 9781782277156 – 304 pages
Louise Mey is a Paris-based author of contemporary noir novels dealing with themes of domestic and sexual violence, and harassment, often with a feminist slant. The Second Woman is her fourth novel, but the first to be translated into English.
Follow Louise Mey on Twitter @MeyLouise
“The Second Woman” was translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie.