Saturday, 8 August 2020

All Men Want To Know by Nina Bouraoui

All Men Want To Know by Nina Bouraoui
First published in French as Tous les hommes désirent naturellement savoir in France in August 2018. English language translation by Aneesa Abbas Higgins published by Viking on the 6th August 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


All Men Want to Know traces Nina Bouraoui's blissful childhood in Algeria, a wild, sun-soaked paradise, with hazy summer afternoons spent swimming, diving, and driving across the desert. Her mother is French, her father Algerian; when racial tensions begin to surface in their neighbourhood, her mother suffers an unspeakable act of violence that forces the family to flee the country.

In Paris, eighteen-year-old Nina lives alone. It's the 1980s. Four nights a week she makes her way to The Kat, a legendary gay nightclub, where she watches women from the sidelines, afraid of her own desires, her sudden and intoxicating freedom. In her solitude, she starts to write - and finds herself writing about her mother.

All Men Want to Know is a haunting, lyrical international bestseller about mothers and daughters, about shame and sexuality, about existing between two cultures and belonging to neither. A phenomenon in France, this is a defining portrait of womanhood from one of Europe's greatest living writers.

I think that All Men Want To Know is going to be a Marmite of a book in that readers will either love the atmosphere and character Bouraoui creates, or will be very irritated by her writing style. Personally I am firmly in the first camp!

In what she describes as 'autobiographical fiction' Bouraoui explores her overwhelming sense of not belonging. She is half-Algerian and half-French and finds herself suspended between each of these cultures without being at home in either. She is also a closeted lesbian whose coming out would be prevented by the strict social taboos of her Algerian childhood so she struggles to establish a sexual identity for herself even in the more open climate of 1980s Paris. All the aspects of her personality are jumbled together and this is brilliantly expressed through similar jumbling of the first person narration of All Men Want To Know. Our unnamed narrator skips between moments from her Algerian childhood to nights at a Parisian nightclub, memories of her French grandmother to her intense need to write. Some scenes last for a page or more, others might be just a paragraph, so the full novel reads more as stream of consciousness than organised memoir.

I loved the sense of not knowing where to draw lines between Bouraoui the character and Bouraoui the author and this reminded me of reading Seeing Red by Lina Meruane. All Men Want To Know has such a powerful authenticity to it that I came away feeling as though I truly understood our narrator's personal confusion. This is very much a novel of women's experiences and women's relationships between friends and within families as well as sexual love. I highly recommend this book to readers of intense psychological stories and to people who can empathise with feeling alienated.

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Books by Nina Bouraoui / Contemporary fiction / Books from Algeria

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