Pushkin Vertigo Spotlight: The Second Woman by Louise Mey
Posted 16th July 2021
Louise Mey is the author of the upcoming noir, The Second Woman, which is available for preorder now. As part of the Vertigo Spotlight Week, we sat down and asked her some questions about her book and it’s heroine.
Tell us about your reason for writing The Second Woman and why you chose these particular themes:
I wanted to write about what I had learned on the subject of coercion, but I didn’t want to have an intellectual and theoretical approach to the subject. It’s easy to judge and discard people who end up being controlled by someone as weak, or maybe even a little ‘stupid’. What I learnt while doing research for my previous novels was that it does, in fact, happen to people of all backgrounds and social classes. I use statistics on violence on women to write my novels, but this time I wanted a different approach, something even less academic.
The Second Woman allows the reader to live alongside the main character. It’s not about judging her or thinking ‘I would never allow anyone to treat me like that’, it’s about riding along with her, following her train of thought, what she decides to see or not, what she tries her best not to think about, and all of a sudden realising ‘wait, this isn’t right’, and knowing it’s too late.
Something quite interesting happens with people who read The Second Woman: they all, at some stage, realise the whole situation has derailed, but not all at the same moment. Whether you identify as a man, as a woman, whether you are gay or straight, used to complying with the rules or, the contrary, with a habit of fending for yourself… you won’t react to the same signals, won’t interpret the same little things as red flags. For someone who writes about violence and dynamics of power, unfortunately, the theme was unavoidable.
What novels have inspired you the most?
I’ve just recently started reading Margaret Atwood, and I’m quite angry with myself for not having done that sooner! I love Fred Vargas’ novels, and the complexity and empathy of her characters. Since I was a child I’ve been very keen on Marie-Aude Murail’s novels (she writes with a very fluid and what may appear a very simple style that just flows beautifully). I’ve also read about a dozen times Only Children by Alison Lurie, and the way in which she describes sounds, textures, smells, flavours in the novel is something I think that has stuck with me – and is probably an influence on The Second Woman.
Why did you not name the central male character in the novel, and was this a comment on masculine dominance in the issues involved in this story?
Because a huge part of novels, movies, series… still revolve around men and their motivations, drives, desires. Men are the reference and are supposed to embody the universal.
This is just not the novel I wanted to write. I’m writing about Sandrine. She’s the main character. I wanted readers to spend time with her. She’s the one I’m interested in. And more generally, I’m still appalled by the way victims of violence (whether they are women, members of the LGBTQI+ community, sex workers) are excluded from the narrative.
It is still very usual to read about people being raped, murdered, and not knowing anything about them, but hearing at length about the men who hurt them – their life story, turmoil, often highlighted as reasons (if not excuses) for being hurtful. Many journalists and activists fight daily against this narrative, but it’s still there. I just try to be part of a different narrative.
One of the strengths of this novel is that it is so empathetic with victims of sexual violence. Tell us about the research that went into writing this novel
I used research I had done for my previous novels – also about sexual and systemic violence against women, LGBTQI+ and sex workers – and how hard it is for them to be heard and believed. How deeply rooted cruel reactions (‘Yeah ok, but how was she dressed ?’ ‘Yeah, ok but a guy doesn’t just hit his wife, she must have pushed hm over the edge’ ‘Yeah, like a sex worker can be raped’) are in all of us. I often get sent awful stories about missing persons, terrible incidents, killed mothers and wives (I’d rather be sent pictures of puppies, but here we are), and it’s always so heart-wrenching.
Most of the time, women who are killed by a partner or ex-partner had asked for help, reported to the police, sometimes dozens of times. It’s almost as if, as a society, we cared about women only once they are dead.
Women are not symbols to be used, waved around or capitalized upon, they’re citizens who should be entitled to safety and autonomy.
What is next for you?
Several children’s book projects, which I’m very happy about! I just love children literature – and I swear, I don’t just write about terrible and depressing stuff! (I know it’s not obvious right now, but no, really!) So, working on a series of detective stories, but on the fun side – and it is really nice (and a breeze of fresh air after those last months).
The Second Woman by Louise Mey (tr. Louise Rogers Lalaurie) will be released on 2nd September. This Q&A is part of the Pushkin Vertigo Spotlight Week, where we are focusing in on six of our outstanding crime writers – find out more about it here.