Home > 2000, 20th Century, Despentes Virginie, French Literature, Novel, Rock Literatature > Teen Spirit by Virginie Despentes

Teen Spirit by Virginie Despentes

Teen Spirit by Virginie Despentes. (2002). Not available in English (unfortunately)

Despentes_teen_spiritThis is my second Despentes after Apocalypse Bébé. (available in English, this one) and before Vernon Subutex, her latest opus which is sitting on my shelf.

Bruno is thirty, living with his girlfriend and doing nothing. He’s unable to leave the apartment, out of agoraphobia. He watches TV, smokes pot, hopes to write something one of these days. One day, Alice, his former girlfriend from high school barges into his life and tells him she was pregnant when she left him. So Bruno has a daughter, Nancy, who’s thirteen. Nancy has always lived with her mother, thinking her father was dead and when she discovered by chance that he was actually alive, she wanted to meet him. And she made her mother’s life a living hell, so Alice caved. Bruno is rather shocked by the news but is willing enough to meet his daughter. Nancy enters his life and their budding relationship will help them both.

This sound like a nice little novel with hearts and flowers, you could almost smell roses from the loveliness of the description. Except you’re in a book by Virginie Despentes. So it doesn’t smell like roses but it Smells Like Teen Spirit. Virginie Despentes loves rock music and it permeates through her literature.

Bruno is the narrator of the story and he has a bit of a Peter Pan syndrome. He’s depressed because he doesn’t want to grow up. He has to give up some of his dreams, leave behind his self with the rock attitude to adjust to the world of adults. He’s still grieving the loss of his illusions but he needs to turn the page and move on. Before Alice and Nancy, he was hiding away. Alice made him go out of the apartment to meet her, he couldn’t tell her about his phobia, so he pushed himself. She was the catalyst he needed. Her difficulty to raise Nancy leaves some space for him in Nancy’s life; she wanted to get to know him and Alice welcomes any help she can have with her daughter.

Virginie Despentes captured very well the hesitation of adolescence, like here, in her description of Nancy:

Deux versions d’elle-même se disputaient dans un seul corps. Entre la montre Kitty et le bracelet clouté, elle n’avait pas encore choisi son camp. Two versions of herself were fighting in one body. Between the Kitty watch and the studded leather bracelet, she hadn’t picked her side yet.

Sometimes, Nancy sounds like she’s the adult. Between Bruno whose paternity make him accept to cross the bridge between adolescence and adulthood and Alice who struggles to keep sane, she seems the most grounded of the three.

Despentes also captured well the emotions brewing in Bruno. When I wrote about Apocalyse Bébé, I compared Virginie Despentes to Michel Houellebecq, saying why I thought she captured our world better than him. When I read Teen Spirit, I wondered it was a response to Houellebecq’s Elementary Particles. Indeed, in this novel written by Houellebecq in 1998 one of the main characters is also named Bruno. He’s as much as a loser as this Bruno and also someone who doesn’t want to grow up. Bruno by Despentes is less self-centered than Bruno by Houellebecq. He doesn’t know how to be a father and as he’s not totally an adult, he manages to communicate with Nancy, with slight touches, with hesitation and feeling his way along. The book was written in 2002, Bruno is 30, so he was born in 1972. Houellebecq’s Bruno belongs to the babyboom generation, like his creator. Despentes’ Bruno belongs to the Generation X. In my opinion, this is the first generation of men fully involved in raising children along women. (at least in France) This is the generation of men who change diapers, don’t think that a stroller cramps their style and get up at night when kids are sick. It makes sense that our Bruno in Teen Spirit doesn’t reject Nancy and makes effort to get to know her. This Bruno has accepted this society made of unemployment, consumerism and lives with it, even if he doesn’t approve of it.

Despentes seems to have more faith in individuals than Houellebecq even if both writers share a dark vision of our society. Alice comes from a wealthy family and Bruno is poor. Spending time with her father, Nancy goes out of her protective shell. She discovers Paris on foot and Bruno shares his concerns about money. I heard Virginie Despentes talk about her work. She said she wants her book to show how violent our society is. She doesn’t mean “violent” in a sense of riots and physical threats. She points out the violence of a society with high unemployment, sometimes pressure in the work place and too much interest in consuming.

I liked Teen Spirit a lot. It’s fairly optimistic and I’m not sure it reflects Virginie Despentes’ other books. I enjoy her punchy style, her take on the French society, her insolence, her rejection of political correctness. She rocks!

Find another short review by Marina Sofia, here

 

  1. April 30, 2015 at 3:41 am

    I bought Apocalypse Baby after your review and haven’t got to it yet so I have to read that first before I can start complaining that this isn’t translated yet. I know she doesn’t do hearts and flowers as I tried to watch the film of her novel: Baise Moi. Gave up on that one.

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    • May 3, 2015 at 9:55 am

      I hope you’ll like Apocalypse Baby. I like that she’s doing something different in French literature. (you know, not gazing at her navel in wonder and pondering about the difficulty of relationships…I’m a bit extreme, I know)

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  2. April 30, 2015 at 5:47 am

    This one is I think more heart-warming than her other books – I haven’t read those, but from comments by those who have read them. I rather liked Bruno and Nancy, despite their flaws – and yes, there is a lot of commentary about modern society, but woven in well with the story. The ending just felt a bit ‘oh, that’s out of the blue?’, but that’s what it must have felt like at the time, that the whole world was about to change.

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    • May 3, 2015 at 9:57 am

      I also think it’s one of her most positive books. I agree with you about the ending.

      I’m very curious about Vernon Subutex.

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  3. May 3, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    She’s one of those authors I liked years ago but don’t feel like returning to at all. But I enjoyed your review.

    Like

    • May 3, 2015 at 8:43 pm

      Well I’m curious about Vernon Subutex. I’ve heard at a conference recently and I liked her attitude and her way of thinking.

      Like

  4. May 5, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    I strongly suspect this will be translated into English. It certainly sounds like it deserves to be. Interesting that she explores fairly dark societal issues in a book which ultimately remains optimistic, that’s rare.

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    • May 5, 2015 at 10:27 pm

      I’m not so sure it will be translated. It’s rather old and more recent novels of hers have been translated.

      Apocalypse Bébé is worth reading.

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      • May 6, 2015 at 1:17 pm

        I have Apocalypse Baby on a virtual TBR for some point in the future. Disappointing if you’re right re the prospects for translation of this one.

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        • May 9, 2015 at 6:13 pm

          We’ll see. If her Vernon Subutex wins a prize, there may be an interest for all her work. (I don’t know if her last opus deserves a prize or not)

          Like

  1. June 18, 2015 at 9:39 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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