The Body Hunter by Najat El Hachmi
It’s easy to feel like this book is a guilty pleasure, especially in the first third where the narrator, Isabel, simply describes half a dozen or so times she had sex with complete strangers. Still, I don’t think a book is necessarily frivolous just because it’s all about sex, and so with this. Najat El Hachmi isn’t afraid to describe sex that’s really bad, just as she criticises the dominant Western sexual culture and discusses alienation quite powerfully.
The book does have a somewhat weird format; most of the book takes the form of Isabel talking to the middle-aged, male writer for whom she cleans. He advises her about what he thinks she should do, but that actual advice – anything he says to her between these monologues – isn’t in the book. However, the second part is a bit different because there are sections in the third-person describing the writer’s daily routines alongside Isabel’s monologue, which are italicised for this part. It comes across a bit experimental and I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind it, but I didn’t exactly mind, either.
Mostly, though, I love the audacity of, having already written the requisite “migrant experience story”, deciding that the haters can go fuck themselves because you want to write about sex in Catalonia now. I mean, why not? But you still can’t say it’s that common! I’m excited for any further books El Hachmi puts out.
PS: here’s The Independent’s review of The Body Hunter . It’s not bad, and for the most part I agree with it, but I do disagree with the idea that in the end it’s a “conventional morality tale” (even if only “to some degree”), because in it “promiscuous sex does not bring happiness”. It’s not moralising to admit that for the majority of people it does not, and especially for the majority of heterosexual women, who have to deal with men who don’t bother to make sex enjoyable for them and don’t have much respect for them, either . I just found it realistic and logical that meaningless sex with strangers didn’t have much effect on Isabel’s loneliness or alienation. But hey…