Consent, by Vanessa Springora has shaken up the Soixant Huitard generation of French intellectuals. It is memoir of her sexual abuse between the ages of fourteen and sixteen by Gabriel Matzneff, a well known writer (in France anyway) who was in his mid-fifties at the time. The abuse happened with the tacit approval of her mother and in an atmosphere of tolerance in the intellectual circles that Matzneff inhabited. He made no effort to conceal his pubescent tastes and indeed published diaries chronicling his involvement with young girls. He was part of generation of writers and artists who were against any restraint on sexual pleasure and saw nothing untoward in his preferences and actions.

What makes Consent so powerful and interesting is that it is not an obvious polemic against Matzneff, indeed she recounts how ‘in love’ she was with him and his insistence that he was ‘in love’ with her. Her knife is much subtler than that. She allows him his ‘say’ but then devastatingly twists the blade when she reveals his sudden lack of interest as she leaves adolescence: he was not in love with her, of course, but the window of puberty. The moment she became sixteen, he was off and after fresh meat. 

Would it have made a difference if it had been a true love affair that lasted into old age? It’s an interesting question. Not for Woody Allen; but America is a very different place. In France, probably yes.

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