Albertine Prize Nominee: Naked by Jean Philippe Toussaint

April 7, 2017 | By FRENCH CULTURE BOOKS

Naked by Jean-Philippe Toussaint has been shortlisted for the Albertine Prize, a reader's choice award for best contemporary French fiction in English translation. Naked is Jean-Philippe Toussaint's fourth and final novel about one of the most fully realized female characters of contemporary fiction, the haute couturière Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte. With his customary nuanced reflection and nimble wit, Toussaint continues to follow Marie’s relationship with his unnamed narrator, navigating through jealousy and comedy, irony and tenderness. Translated by Edward Gauvin (Dalkey Archive). Vote for the Albertine Prize through April 30th!

An Excerpt from Naked

Apart from the spectacular aspect of certain dresses Marie had created in the past—the dress of sorbet, the dress of rosemary and thorny broom, the dress of gorgonian coral adorned with necklaces of sea urchin and earrings of Venus-ear shell—Marie sometimes ventured beyond fashion into speculative territories akin to the most radical experiments of contemporary art. Developing a theoretical reflection on the very idea of haute couture, she had returned to the original meaning of the word couture as the sewing of cloth using different techniques, stitching, tacking, hooking, binding, which allow fabrics to be combined on models’ bodies, twinned to the skin, and joined together, to present this year in Tokyo a haute-couture dress without a single stitch. With her dress made of honey, Marie invented a dress without straps or ties that clung all by itself to the model’s body, a levitating dress, light, fluid, liquefying, slowly molten and syrupy, weightless in space yet wedded to the model’s body, since the model’s body was the dress itself.

The dress of honey had been shown for the first time at the Spiral building in Tokyo. It was the culmination of Marie’s latest fall-winter collection. At the end of the show, the final model emerged from the wings wearing that dress of light and amber, as if her body had been dipped head-to-toe in a humongous jar of honey before her entrance. Naked and honeyed, flowing, she made her way down the catwalk, swaying her hips in time to the beat of the music, high-heeled, smiling, trailed by a swarm of bees that formed a thrumming procession midair, the honey their lodestone, an elongated, abstract cloud of droning insects that accompanied her parade and turned with her at catwalk’s end in a yawing whirl like an outflung, disheveled scarf, sinuous and alive, writhing with the hymenoptera that followed in her wake when she made her exit.

That, at least, was the theory. In practice, the difficulties had multiplied. Right from the start, there was a choice to be made between using real insects or resorting to a system of artificial, remote-controlled bees, drawing on the latest bio-robotic research, which made it possible to imagine tiny flying robots rigged with ventral sensors. Readying the dress of honey had also brought up several thorny issues involving laws, insurance, and contracts. When, after a lengthy casting session held at the Tokyo office of the fashion house Let’s Go Daddy-O, the model for the honey dress was chosen at last, a young Russian girl barely seventeen years old, Marie’s lawyers labored for more than a month to finalize the definitive contract with the Rezo Agency in Shibuya, a contract of more than fifteen pages that contained scores of codicils and unusual clauses due to the singular nature of the service provided.

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