I Was a Teenage Mystic!

The “confessional snare” and Québécois women’s writing

In September 2007, Nelly Arcan appeared on the talk show Tout le monde en parle, a cultural phenomenon in Quebec watched weekly by more than a million viewers. Her first two novels, Whore and Hysteric, had scorched the literary landscape with their caustic, quasi-autobiographical reflections on sex work, death, and the toxic veneration of female beauty; both books had attracted major critical attention and had been nominated for prestigious literary prizes in France. Now, the 34-year-old author was ostensibly being invited onto the show to discuss her third novel.

From the moment the buxom blonde took her seat on the all-male panel, though, it became clear that nobody wanted to talk about her book. After several minutes of increasingly irrelevant questions, the host’s sidekick gleefully admitted that he was at any rate too distracted by Arcan’s cleavage to pay attention to her words...