Jeanne is on a quest for pleasure. In her “memory palace” there is a plethora of images and descriptions, all of which contain her encounters with men. The men she picks up from the streets of Paris. The men she takes to a series of hotels. All these images are safely stored away. She is collecting descriptions of her sexual encounters and focussing on one thing in particular – the penis.
From one man to the next she recalls the colour and anatomical intricacies of the penis. This may seem like a comical idea to some but what is more important here is the female point of view. There are no bad descriptions of breasts and vaginas, screaming orgasmic sex and ridiculous scenarios found in the pages of pornographic books written by men. Leger is exploring the very thing we don’t really talk about.
Jeanne has no backstory; we don’t know who she is or what she does. We have no idea why she is so obsessed with creating her memory palace or why she enjoys the anatomy of men in such detail. An anonymous figure. A mystery. Nor do we know much about the men she meets; they too are anonymous. She does not compare them to one another, they are singular beings, singular encounters. This all adds to the enigma that is Jeanne.
Leger’s book is wonderful. It is far from the pages of pornography as we know it; it is beautifully written. Little love letters to sex and the self, her words are not brutish or coarse; they are soft, gentle, warm and at times surreal. It is daring and full of wonderfully descriptive prose. It is cliché free and extremely intimate – it is a must read.
The book was originally published in 2017 under the title Mise en Pieces and won the Prix Anais Nin. The prize is created in homage to the Anais Nin and it “rewards a work which is distinguished by a singular voice and sensitivity, the originality of its imagination and a daring in the face of the moral order”.