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Hélène Cixous

ISBN: 978-0-745-64868-2 March 2011 Polity 224 Pages

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A compelling work of autobiographical fiction, Hélène Cixous's Hemlock weaves tragedy and comedy in its exploration of various human attachments: between an elderly but still truculent mother and her writer-daughter, between the mother and her sister, and between the writer and her vanished but nonetheless intensely present friend, Jacques Derrida, whose death is movingly evoked. "Here," she says in her preface, "the criss-crossing paths of my mother and my aunt will come to an end at last. When one old flower is left, what becomes of the other face?" Socrates is conjured up, along with the poisonous plants of Hamlet, the human comedies of Balzac and Proust, and other literary and philosophical ghosts who find themselves drawn into the fabric of Cixous's text: "I'm not sleeping," writes the protagonist. "A worm is drilling my brain. It's a phrase I heard in the hellish juice of the jusquiame. I pour it into my own ear. ‘I'm afraid Mama will die'."

In this new work Hélène Cixous continues to explore and expand the boundaries of narrative, slipping from thought to thought and from image to image, so as to render every action, fear and thought palpable to the reader.

Mama's Not in Mama - There's Someone Else
In Which Country?
Put Me a Ghost at the Embarcadero
The Vitrine
Two Slices of Life
Cousin Deafness
The Jerk
Get, Gotcha
To Have To Lose
The Blue Notebook
Eri Goes On Ahead
Translator's Postface
"Focuses on the relationship between Cixous and her mother, gradually building a picture of the painful ambivalence that children experience as they witness their parents' decline. The text forms a patchwork quilt of anecdotes that weave together domesticity and philosophy."
Times Literary Supplement

"Love and death battle subtly and ceaselessly in this tenderly dramatic, funny, domestic book. Told by a daughter doing all she can not to anticipate the death of her much-loved mother, fiction joins forces with flowers and animals, philosophy and the act of writing itself to affirm life in the teeth of loss."
Sarah Wood, University of Kent

"Beverly Bie Brahic's beautifully-crafted translation succeeds in capturing the distinctive music and haunting tonality of the original along with its rich web of meaning - this is a wonderful addition to the growing body of works by Cixous available in English"
Mairéad Hanrahan, University College London

  • Cixous is generally regarded as one of the leading French feminist writers, if not the leading French feminist writer.
  • All of her books tend to be written as philosophical novels, combining elements of autobiography and fiction with reflection of a more philosophical and psychoanalytic kind.
  • This is a moving account of her attempt to come to terms with the idea of her mother's death.
  • This book will appeal to a wide readership interested in creative literary fiction. It will also be of interest to students of Cixous, of gender and writing, and of contemporary French theory.