The Vernon Subutex trilogy, by French author Virginie Despentes, concludes this month with the U.S. release of its final installment’s much-anticipated English translation. Widely acclaimed, the first novel in the series, initially published here in 2019, charts its protagonist, a former record-store owner, as he descends into homelessness, a Parisian odyssey across couches and guest rooms and girlfriends. It brought Despentes to prominence in the U.S., but her other works remain less known, despite being some of her best—including a 2006 manifesto-cum-memoir, King Kong Theory, which Farrar, Straus and Giroux is publishing alongside the last Subutex book.
In France, Despentes is perhaps a more embattled figure than she is here, beloved by some and reviled by others. She came up in the supposedly post-feminist 80s, starting on the pill at 14, leaving home at 17, and then, in her 20s, becoming a sex worker. “I was a million miles from feminism,” she writes in King Kong Theory, “not out of a lack of solidarity or awareness, but because, for a long time, my gender didn’t really stop me from doing much of anything.” Here, she is railing against nostalgia for a time before the sexual revolution, before the feminist revolution, when women supposedly had it better. But despite the “horizons unfurled” by those two respective movements, things weren’t all roses.