Fem by Magda Cârneci, translated by Sean Cotter

Cârneci is better known as a poet and art critic, and this hypnotic, fevered dream of a book certainly reveals her poetic qualities. Fem is her only novel to date, although I would call it a loose collection of vignettes. The female narrator writes a letter to her lover, in the hope of making him change his mind about leaving her. She tells stories of her childhood, her dreams, the flowering of her body, of how they first met, of key moments in their relationship. It is above all a celebration – and an almost metaphysical examination – of femininity, although the author describes herself more as a ‘passive feminist’.

“What is happening, why aren’t I right with myself, what have I forgotten, what don’t I understand? Obsessively, the same thoughts passed through my mind, as my unsettled gaze rose over the transparent nylon socks wrapping my thin calves, then the gently curved thighs under the white dress I had on…  I embraced myself in a single gaze, head to toe, seated politely on a green and slightly damp bench. I tried to understand my body, to love it. It seemed so strange, this body which enclosed me as though in a hermetic box, this liveried and absurd body, as though it had grown by itself, without any effort from my part; I almost couldn’t recognize it, it almost wasn’t mine. A kind of surprised pity passed through me, mixed with disgust. Who had stuck me in this pinkish-white package, from which I could never extract myself? Who had put me, without the possibility of escape, in this uniform of flesh, bone, and hair, with limbs that ended in ridiculous protuberances, with hands and feet that ended in claws?”

First published in translation by Deep Vellum, 2021. You can read an excerpt from it on LitHub)

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