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Consent: A Memoir Reviews

Consent: A Memoir by Vanessa Springora

Consent: A Memoir

Vanessa Springora

4.33 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: HarperVia
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 18 Feb 2021
ISBN: 9780008424923

The devastating and powerful memoir from a French publisher who was abused by a famous writer from the age of thirteen 'A gut-punch of a memoir with prose that cuts like a knife' Kate Elizabeth Russell, author of My Dark Vanessa

4 stars out of 5
Stephanie Merritt
2 Mar 2021

"Consent is not a comfortable read, but it is immensely powerful, both in showing how a victim can regain control of her own story, and in considering how such men might be held to account"

Vanessa Springora’s memoir, Consent, is a troubling reminder that our horror at the idea of sex between adults and minors is relatively recent, and dependent on shifting cultural attitudes. Springora was 13 when she was introduced to the French writer Gabriel Matzneff at a dinner party she attended with her mother. He was 50. She articulates, with deliberate detachment, how she was ripe for grooming: “A father, conspicuous only by his absence, who left an unfathomable void in my life. A pronounced taste for reading. A certain sexual precocity. And, most of all, an enormous need to be seen. All the necessary elements were now in place.”... Consent is not a comfortable read, but it is immensely powerful, both in showing how a victim can regain control of her own story, and in considering how such men might be held to account. “Silence means consent,” she writes, explaining that she has finally chosen to tell her story for all the other girls Matzneff abused, whose self-doubt and fear of their own complicity has prevented them from speaking.


4 stars out of 5
Fleur Macdonald
21 Feb 2021

"dismantles the myth of the eccentric genius"

This isn’t a misery memoir, or an account of survival against all odds. It reads like a dark fairy tale, more reminiscent of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea or Kamel Daoud’s The Mersault Investigation, a masterful retelling of Camus’s The Stranger from the Arab’s perspective. Alice has fallen through the looking-glass. I can’t help but cheer her on. Matzneff’s legacy is now enmeshed forever in this clever, thoughtful and honest book.

4 stars out of 5
Melanie McDonagh
17 Feb 2021

"shows that revenge is still a dish best eaten cold"

This book – sensitively translated by Natasha Lehrer - would be devastating at any time, but now it’s part of a movement in France against the generation of ’68, for whom “the freedom to fuck” (Mme Duchamel’s words) was absolute. The trouble was, their untrammelled sexual self-expression turned out to include a taste for the nubile and pubescent young.

Now the day of reckoning has come. Consent could just as well be called Backlash.

3 stars out of 5
Lola Seaton
17 Feb 2021

"A French memoir of sexual abuse created a political storm – but is it, as its author suggests, “first and foremost a piece of literature”?"

The contrast with Annie Ernaux’s decisively literary A Girl’s Story, another short memoir about a first, traumatic sexual encounter, written decades later, is illuminating. Self-revelation in memoir is not only revelation of the “self” who is the memoir’s subject, but the “self” who is the memoir’s author. Part of the literary intensity of Ernaux’s memoir comes from the reader’s observation of the writer engaged in her unflinching, scrupulous delving into painful memories. Springora’s story, however, can seem almost ­fossilised; we rarely feel the riveting presence of the adult author “working through” the material.

5 stars out of 5
Parul Sehgal
16 Feb 2021

"a Molotov cocktail, flung at the face of the French establishment, a work of dazzling, highly controlled fury"

In an interview with The New Yorker, Springora said she conceived of her book as “a message in a bottle.” Don’t imagine a lonely bottle, bobbing in the sea, bearing its plaintive missive. “Consent” is a Molotov cocktail, flung at the face of the French establishment, a work of dazzling, highly controlled fury... The fallout has been swift. After the publication of “Consent,” prosecutors opened a case against Matzneff. He was dropped by his three publishers and stripped of a lifetime stipend. This week the government announced it would instate 15 as the age of consent. By every conceivable metric, her book is a triumph.

4 stars out of 5
Lauren Elkin
11 Feb 2021

"Springora shows that it is Matzneff himself, not “life”, who initiates her into disillusionment and despair"

With admirable restraint – another author might have been tempted to veer off into disquisitions on De Sade, Balthus, or Nabokov – Springora describes how Matzneff expertly manipulated her into believing she had as much agency and power as he did: that she was a consenting party in their “affair”. Thirty years later, she is able to see this as a mirage, and to show the reader exactly how the literary aura Bombardier described can exert power over a bookish, fatherless young woman who is alive to her body and eager to be loved... When Springora’s book came out in France, he told the TV station BFM that he did not want to read it, and ruin the memory of what he recalls as having been “a durable and magnificent love story”. But can a teenage girl have a “magnificent love story” with someone more than three times her age? This is the question at the heart of Consent. Readers will not be in any doubt about the answer.

5 stars out of 5
Melanie Reid
11 Feb 2021

"rapier-sharp, written with restraint, elegance and brevity — and beautifully translated"

An open letter supporting the decriminalisation of sex between minors and adults was published in Le Mondein 1977, signed by eminent psychoanalysts, philosophers and writers including Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Glucksmann, and Louis Aragon. They argued against the detention of three men awaiting trial for sex with minors because the children were consenting, not “in any way” victims of violence. The organiser of the letter was Gabriel Matzneff, an author celebrated for his paedophilic novels...

Matzneff, lionised for decades by the French establishment, is at 84 said to be in hiding in Italy, his books withdrawn by his publisher. Patriarchal literary France is shamed. Consent, rapier-sharp, written with restraint, elegance and brevity — and beautifully translated — has done what it set out to do. I hope it helped her to write it.