The Second Woman review: Shades of domestic violence laid bare in a French thriller


The second woman Louise Mey Pouchkine Vertigo, € 14.99

In our current denominational culture, there aren’t many unexplored topics as previously taboo topics – bereavement, addiction, mental health – have all been picked up, both in memory and in fiction.

Domestic violence, however, is a topic that has barely been touched upon. Some brave young women have risked their lives speaking out, and a few standout fictional titles have been released: This charming man by Marian Keyes, Anna Burns Dairy and the unforgettable Big little lies by Liane Moriarty.

With The second wife, French feminist Louise Mey goes to a certain extent to open up the dialogue further.

Sandrine is a young woman obsessed with her figure. Her father told her all her life that she was a fat cow and an ugly, stupid bitch – there are also hints that he went further in his abuse of her.

She is friendless and loveless and even though she works in an office, she keeps her distance from her chatty colleagues. His whole existence is devoted to work and trying to lose weight, to show a presentable form to the world.

Then one day on the news, she sees the heartbreaking story of a young mother who has disappeared, leaving a hungry baby boy and an inconsolable husband. The husband cries on the news images and Sandrine melts.

He and his in-laws organize a search and she decides to support them. She finds the courage to talk to him.

Until that moment, she had only known two kinds of male gazes: indifference or the threat of a predator.

“But that Sunday, the man in the blue shirt had looked up into his eyes. Neither hunger nor disgust – something new. And he had smiled.

In a few weeks, she moves into his house and she becomes his lover. Slowly but surely, he is taking her life in hand, deciding what she will wear, what she will eat, who she will see. Sandrine is so thrilled to have the slightest crumb of affection that she endures, no matter what he decides to be his behavior and his treatment of her on any given day.

Then the unthinkable happens – his wife shows up unexpectedly with amnesia. She doesn’t even recognize her son, but with the help of two policemen and a psychologist, pieces come back to her and the crying man gets more and more agitated.

Mey allows us to realize immediately what happened, yet her talent is to make us travel with Sandrine, so that we wonder if she will admit the truth to herself in time.

A psychological thriller, The second woman is a page turner who makes important points about domestic violence: how potential abusers carefully search for their victim, how subtle they can be initially in their treatment of their prey, how they gradually isolate their victims from society and how the abused person learns to control their every thought for fear of its impact on the relationship.

In her author’s note, Mey says that “Psychiatrists suggest that conflicting messages sent by an abuser have a crippling effect on the victim’s brain… and to say that the partner who experiences this behavior should just leave is to deny the fact. paramount importance of this aspect hidden the phenomenon “.

The plot isn’t perfect – not all victims of domestic violence are already damaged, and an abuser can destroy the strongest of the characters. Additionally, the police are almost too good-looking to be true in their dogged pursuit of the perpetrator.

However, bringing this difficult subject into the arena of popular fiction can only be a good thing.

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