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Nina Bouraoui, Autofiction and the Search for Selfhood


Rosie MacLachlan

The motif of the ‘identity quest’ features strongly in much contemporary French women’s writing, but nowhere more so than in the work of Nina Bouraoui. Author of numerous books since 1991 and winner of the 2005 Prix Renaudot, Bouraoui persistently explores the question of self-expression in her work, experimenting with a variety of self-representational modes and emphasising the importance of language to the construction of her sense of self.

Considering the textual identities produced through Bouraoui’s work in the period 1999–2011, this book examines how self-referential writing can represent a crucial act of resistance to a number of contemporary problems, including race, gender and social isolation. Using the work of Monique Wittig and Judith Butler to theorise the transformative potential of the literary text, the author proposes autofiction as a uniquely unrestricted space, which for writers such as Bouraoui may provide the only medium through which to formulate a coherent and manageable sense of self.

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Chapter 7: Poupée bella and Avant les hommes: Escaping Isolation through Reading


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Poupée bella and Avant les hommes: Escaping Isolation through Reading

In 2007 Bouraoui published Avant les hommes, a short first-person narrative describing the summer experiences of a teenaged boy, Jérémie. Avant les hommes stands out from each of Bouraoui’s works from the preceding seven years, and from her three following publications, as it is the only text written within the period 1999 to 2011 to bear no immediate resemblance to Bouraoui’s life story, and to depart from Bouraoui’s usual choice of a young female narrator. Bouraoui’s choice of alternative narrator is however highly significant, because, as an isolated gay youth, Jérémie perhaps represents the embodiment of the reader Bouraoui imagines in her comments about writing for others. If critical theory supports Bouraoui’s suggestion that representing her sexual identity in her self-referential work may constitute a positive, affirmative act for her readers, the act of reading can be seen to play an important role within identity formation. Avant les hommes, alongside the more self-referential Poupée bella published three years earlier, provides a potential example of this, as a gay adolescent is both isolated from the world around them, and brought comfort through textual encounters described in the narrative. Each of these works represent reading as having a significant effect on the development of their protagonist’s sense of self, and considering the commonalities between them may therefore reveal how Bouraoui believes textual representations of sexuality can...

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