Sphinx is the debut novel of Anne Garreta, one of the few female authors to belong to the esteemed Oulipo. The Oulipo is an exclusive group of French writers known for writing outside of the box. Each member writes with a particular language constraint that readers would not expect. In the case of Sphinx, Garreta never lists the gender of either main character in the story. This is seen as an incredible feat in the French language due to its strong use of gender in everyday grammar.
Sphinx follows the story of an unnamed narrator and their american lover, A***. Through questionable circumstances, the narrator becomes a DJ at a club in Paris, eventually meeting A*** because they are a cabaret dancer. Appearing to have nothing in common, the two characters must actively work to mend their relationship stricken with judgement from passersby. Sphinx is a very atmospheric piece which delves into not only the ups and downs of a night out, but also that of a relationship. It conveys smokey nights on Paris streets, ennui, and the loss of a presence.
I had fun imagining different genders for the narrator and A*** throughout the novel. Due to its genderless nature each reader can take what they want from the story, molding it to fit their preferences. In times like these a statement like Sphinx is especially needed, which is why I felt it was important to share. When discussing the book with friends I accidentally referred to the narrator and A*** as “he and she” which only fueled my need to finish the book. We automatically perceive things as either masculine or feminine, and Sphinx is a major step in breaking that social construct down. The story is by no means anything special, or happy for that matter, but it is a very realistic one. It had the power to evoke emotions in me and helped to further the development of my personal identity. Regardless of gender, the Narrator and A*** are two individuals in love, and this is their story.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop