Ms. Kouchner’s evocation of summer days at the family property on the Côte d’Azur is powerful in its evocation of a false idyll: tennis, meals, Scrabble, wine, laughter — as well as nude bathing in the swimming-pool, touching under the table and mockery of bourgeois sexual constraints.

How often, in Nabokov’s novel, Humbert Humbert evokes the nauseating contrast between a privileged sunlit world and the clandestine rape of a child by her step-father. Camille Kouchner’s memoir recalls the incestuous assaults on her brother by their step-father, the high-profile political pundit Olivier Duhamel.


Human beings do get up to some crazy shit. Kouchner’s mother was a radical lefty (longtime lover of Castro) whose anxiety about being mistaken for sexually conventional apparently exceeded her anxiety about whether her husband was sexually assaulting her son.

One account of the now-national scandal ends with Kouchner quoting one of her father’s (Bernard Kouchner) favorite sayings:

“Between the strong and the weak, it’s liberty that oppresses and the law that liberates.”

For decades – assuming the charges against him are true – Olivier Duhamel enjoyed the particular freedom of the French elite, protected by powerful friends who knew about the incest and didn’t care. But he also benefited from a larger, stylish, subversive, liberty – often, in actuality, a cruel personal license – long associated with debased versions of revolutionary ideologies. Duhamel’s “liberties” oppressed a helpless child; now, decades later, that child goes to the courts, to liberate himself.


Deep structure of all this? Start with Michel Houellebecq.

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