August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

by Marie Darrieussecq

A literary sensation when it was published in France last year, Pig Tales is that rare first novel that both tops the bestseller list and is regarded as intellectually serious. Twenty-eight-year-old Marie Darrieussecq’s work already has been translated into dozens of languages and is being made into a film by the noted French director Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless).

Reading this disturbing allegorical story—in which a woman gradually turns into a pig—it is hard to understand all the fuss. Widely regarded to be a feminist fable, Pig Tales centers on a young and unnamed Parisian masseuse who seems average in every sense. When she inexplicably begins gaining weight, growing a thick, spotty hide and then a snout and tail, she goes from darling to device. The author uses her heroine’s condition to explore a passel of social and psychological issues ranging from the hypocrisy of right-wing politicians to the underlying animal nature that humans try futilely to disguise.

Though Darrieussecq’s tone is humorous and her touch light, her novel gets stuck in the mud. An entertaining read in parts, Pig Tales’ comments on human nature are, in the end, disappointing in their lack of substance and surprise. (The New Press, $18)

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