David Jays

Quivering on the Verge of Adulthood

The Book of Proper Names


Faber & Faber 126pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

THE NAMING OF a heroine may not always be attended by fairies (as Sleeping Beauty’s was), but it is a fateful event. Cinderella wilts under her derisive nickname; Jane Eyre clings to her plain, stubborn badge of identity; and in each case something important is asserted. Naming is also significant in the destiny of Plectrude, whose peculiar childhood unrolls like a skewed fairy tale in The Book of Proper Names. Plectrude’s distinctive name is her only inheritance from Lucette, the young mother she never knew. Lucette, appalled by the mediocre names her husband proposes for their unborn child (Tanguy and Joelle cause particular fury), shoots him dead. After giving birth in prison, she insists on naming her child – ‘Plectrude protects you: that ‘rude’ at the end sounds like a shield’ – and then hangs herself. The babe is brought up by her aunt Clémence, and never told her true history.

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