Apocalypse Baby eBook
Valentine, the troubled daughter of a well-off but dysfunctional Parisian family, vanishes on her way to school. Inexperienced private detective Lucie Toledo is hired to find the missing teenager, and enlists the help of a formidable agent with a past, known to her friends as the Hyena.
Lucie has been working as a snooper for two years now: ‘A kid can’t smoke a joint in peace without me personally being right up behind him … The life of their children belongs to adults of my generation, who don’t want to let their youth get away from them twice.’ Her most recent assignment is Valentine Galtan, a girl of 15, ‘nymphomaniac’, ‘hyperactive’, ‘coked up to the eyeballs’ and eavesdropped on by Lucie every morning as she stuffs ‘her face with muffins and Coca-Cola’ in the café next door to her expensive school. Only two things mark out Valentine from the other rich, pretty, sad girls in the café by the crammer. She has no internet presence at all, no Facebook or Instagram, no nothing, and when Lucie plants a doctored phone on her she never switches it on. And then, in the Metro one morning, she just disappears.
The family, of course, is furious, and Lucie is given an ultimatum. Bring her back and she’ll get a €5000 bounty. Fail, and she’ll be sacked. Panicked, she offers the money to a contact known only as the Hyena, a staggeringly good-looking, charismatic and ultra-violent lesbian freelance who, the first time we meet her, is wearing Ray-Bans, a white leather jacket and white jeans. Rumour has it that she started as a debt collector and liked the buzz so much that she progressed to providing ‘drugs for government ministries … call girls for officials … information about ex-French Africa’, not to mention ‘spying on the Scientologists’, ‘radical Islamists’ and ‘Israel’, which makes you wonder why she’d let €5000 detain her, though there turns out to be a sort of reason later on. She hates airports, loves vintage cars and although she considers her to be a ‘dozy mollusc’ she drives Lucie to Barcelona when the trail leads in that direction. And that’s the set-up for what turns out to be a satirical-stroke-melodramatic road novel-stroke-detective thriller with lots of awful Parisian bourgeois in it, Mediterranean palm trees, a rather strenuously utopian S/M lesbian orgy and an enjoyably evil nun. It won the Prix Renaudot in 2010, the same year Houellebecq won the Goncourt, and was celebrated in France as another instance of an enfant terrible growing up.
Virginie Despentes was born in 1969 and grew up in Nancy, in north-east France. In King Kong Theory, a short half-memoir half-essay published in France in 2006, she writes that when she was 15 she was briefly sectioned in a psychiatric institution, and at 17 left Nancy for Lyon, never to return. As a teenager, her passion in life was following bands, and she’d hitch lifts to gigs and sleep in stations: ‘What I experienced during that time, at that age, was unique, so much more intense than shutting myself up at school learning to be docile, or sitting at home reading magazines. Those were the best years of my life, the richest, the noisiest, and I managed to find the strength to deal with the shit that came with them.’ She supported herself by moderating a Minitel server – je m’en souviens! – and developing photographs in a supermarket:
I hated working. I was depressed by all the time it took up, by the small amount of money I earned and the rapidity with which I spent it. I looked at older women, their whole lives spent working like this, only earning slightly more than the minimum wage and still, at fifty, getting bawled out by the floor manager for taking too many toilet breaks … And I couldn’t see a way out.
by Jenny Turner, London Review of Books