Karine Tuil is a writer who became famous thanks to her most recent works, Les Choses humaines (lit., “the human things”), published in 2019, and La Décision (lit., “the decision”), published in 2022. The first one focuses on a rape case in which a young man in his twenties with a prestigious destiny, Alexandre Farel, is accused of having sexually assaulted the daughter of his mother’s new boyfriend, Mila Wizman. Her second book, La Décision, relates antiterrorist judge Alma Revel’s daily life after the Paris terrorist attacks, at a time when the Islamic State has considerable influence. Those two works attempt, first and foremost, to immerse us in the reality of both situations. They are hardly-comparable but cross at a fundamental point: their tragedy. Beyond the subjects covered, and thanks to the characters portrayed by Karine Tuil, those novels appear to possess an additional common point, one of pushing readers to subtle, yet necessary, feminist thinking.
First, we are led to adopt a critical feminist view regarding the described situations within each of Karine Tuil’s books. Through two social tragedies narrated with a lot of depth and sincerity, it is very easy to perceive a criticism and a questioning of women’s role at play within those events. To start with, there is the well-recognised issue of the weight ascribed to women’s voice when sexual harassment occurred.
In Les Choses humaines, Karine Tuil demonstrates perfectly how this goes beyond the mere fact that a woman’s voice is considered weaker than a man’s one, making us realize the extent to which women are victims caught up in an infernal machine led by hegemonic masculinity that impacts all of society’s spheres. Here, Mila’s voice is not being ignored. On the contrary, we understand that hers is a priority throughout the entire story, despite all the challenges she has to face. At no point doubt is cast over Mila’s version of the events. What the book puts forward, though, is above all the patriarchy’s systemic violence that crushes women and feeds rape culture.
On top of the judiciary process’ brutality, that keeps on re-traumatizing Mila from her filing complaint to the court case, Les Choses humaines points a finger at the underlying mechanisms from this culture. The ones that, once they accumulate, oppress the book’s female characters, from the numerous sexist remarks to the ease with which male characters ignore the reluctance from the women surrounding them. In this book, we also uncover a secondary plot in which the father of the accused (Jean Farel), a renowned journalist, has an affair with a female intern who is 40 years younger than him and ends up pregnant. This father, who considers it impossible for his son to be a rapist, because “he has enough resources on his own to seduce a girl (ndl)”. This father, who qualifies Mila’s rape as “twenty minute of action (ndl)”, when for the young woman, it is her whole life tearing down. With this character, the book underlines that even consensual relationships can be rotten by patriarchal violence and imbalanced relations to power. In Les Choses humaines, there is not just rape: there is everything else that makes it possible.
In parallel, Karine Tuil depicts in her novels female characters that seem to be feminist models, as much in their actions as in their profession or personality. In Les Choses humaines, it is Claire Farel, Alexandre’s mother, who is rapidly presented and described at length as a renowned feminist writer who publicly supported a controversial case of immigrants accused of rape in Calais’ jungle. Despite Claire being depicted as a feminist activist, who has herself suffered multiple sexual assaults in the past, she is also tested by the rape case involving her son. In fact, as a mother, she attempts to protect him at all costs from the court’s ruling. However, she also cannot ignore her own convictions and realize the horror he has committed. Immediately, the media rages and comments abound over her hypocrisy. There again, it is the system that deliberately questions her feminism because if one is to be deemed a feminist in a patriarchal society, one must be spotless.
In her second popular novel, La Décision, Karine Tuil immerses us in the daily life of the very notorious judge of antiterrorist affairs, Alma, in 2016, right after the Paris attacks. Those sadly infamous terrorist attacks who caused a real upheaval within the French judiciary. Alma is here depicted as yet another perfect example of a strong woman who appears to have never let society’s expectations tear her down. She climbs the professional ladder and works in a profession requiring qualities more easily attributed to men until then.
This is rendered even more true given the time period and location she is confronted with. Moreover, Alma decides to divorce and appears to conduct the choir in her relations, as she is completely open with a simultaneous affair she has with a lawyer. A double life that we would otherwise expect more from a man. But, because there must of course be a “but” when women seem to have succeeded in overcoming the main barriers imposed by hegemonic masculinity, and that is what Karine Tuil hints at us, Alma still finds herself up against the wall of the patriarchy.
Here again, the patriarchy hits and wins. At the end of the case she was nominated for and that follows along the whole storyline, Alma decides to let go under conditional freedom the subject who came back from Syria, who had as lawyer Alma’s lover. This decision appears to us, through Karine Tuil’s writing, as perfectly reflected upon and weighted on. The issue here is that the day after, this same man perpetrates a horrible terrorist attack. Then, it all goes downhill for Alma. She decides to quit her job, her colleagues give her the side-eye. Because, yes, of course, she is the woman who has been influenced and is easily influenced. Because, she is the one who has to suffer the main consequences, who has to quit her job and deal with the emotional weight of the whole case. Because, yes, it is much easier to have her take one for all, and it is preferable to have one less woman threatening the maintenance of male superiority.
Throughout her two novels, Karine Tuil’s committed writing appears more and more obvious to us. She does not write feminist essays, but only shows us how the patriarchy acts and continuously crushes women, even when the most horrifying things happen to them or when they seem to have broken their chain down. However, what Karine Tuil is telling us is not that we should let ourselves give up. Very much on the contrary, what she implies is a call to an uprising, a call to objection. We need to finish off what Mila, Claire or Alma have started.
Translated by Léa Grandemange and Camille Cottais