Review: Tarantula


I finished Tarantula, originally published mid-90s in French as Mygale, by Thierry Jonquet last week. It has recently been adapted into the film ‘The Skin I Live In’, starring Antonio Banderas and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. I was pretty excited about it as I’m an Almodóvar fan, but now that I’ve read the novel I’m not so sure I want to see it in technicolor. Click here for the NYT review.

For once I’m not the one responsible for picking the weirdy novel for book club! This time is was the turn of the lovely Laina, editor at children’s publishing house Little Island. The story she picked however, was not so lovely.

In a nutshell successful plastic surgeon Richard Lafargue keeps beautiful Eve imprisoned and only allows her out when he needs a bit of arm candy at high society events. Wait, that’s a lie. She also emerges from her gilded cage when he decides to pimp her out, which he does not so much for money but rather to witness her degradation.

‘Eve’ is a strange, sick plaything of Richard’s and as the story unfolds we learn the horrific truth behind her mysterious presence. Look away now if you hate spoilers.

Eve, the clue being in the name, is a creation of Richard. ‘Her’ real name is Vincent. Many years before Vincent raped Richard’s beloved daughter. In one of the most elaborate and disturbing revenge plots I’ve ever encountered, Richard hunts Vincent down, holds him capture, mentally abuses him, pumps him with hormones and finally castrates him.

In completely emasculating Vincent, Richard feels he has meted out justice for his daughter’s rape. It is a terrifying ordeal, gruesomely depicted in print so I’m not sure I’d be able for the cinematic experience.

Jonquet (the giant weirdo) has chucked in a few extra characters too. There’s dim and brutish Alex, a friend and accomplice of Vincent, who — by complete coincidence — is set on tracking down Richard. (Long story, too tired to give all the details!). We also meet tragic Viviane, Richard’s daughter, now resident in a psychiatric hospital. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle fit together as the characters gravitate towards each other in ever-decreasing circles.

Tarantula is a horrible book, a very clever horrible book. I’m torn between deploring and respecting it. I find myself thinking about the editorial assistant who pulled it from the slush pile and had the gumption to present it as a viable option to the editor. That could have gone so wrong for them. The awkward moment you reveal your true sadistic character to your employer …

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