Hemmerecht’s novel is a fictionalisation of the true story of Michelle Martin, wife and accomplice to Marx Dutroux, a man who will go on to kidnap, rape and kill young girls. The release of this novel coincides with the relatively recent event of Martin moving to a convent having been released from prison, after serving sixteen of her thirty year sentence.
In the novel, Hemmerechet renames Martin, Odette. The book is told from Odette’s first person perspective, the inner monologue runs in her head whilst in prison. Her narrative is impossible for the reader to escape, unknowingly and at most points unwillingly, you are dragged into her world. Whilst many reviews use the clichéd phrase ‘page turner’ disparagingly to describe a poorly written, plot-based book, here it retains its original meaning. Odette’s unreliable narrative keeps you in suspense.
The surprisingly graphic scenes of Odette filming her husband raping women and on another occasion dancing around naked watching her husband have sex with another woman works in tandem with the blunt and childish language used by Hemmerechet, Odette calling her now deceased parents, ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’. This serves to emphasise the sinister tone of the novel as a whole. Odette’s obsession with murderer Lhemitte, who killed five of her own children shows her defensive position throughout the novel. Under her narrative you begin to question your own morals. Odette presents herself to the reader that she is a good, caring mother. Trying to protect them from her husband ‘M’’s quick temper and sociopathic qualities. Is Odette as bad as someone who killed five of her own children? Does she deserve to be the most hated woman in Belgium?
Once you start this novel, there is no going back or escape
The media story of Martin’s crimes is infamous, however the story of Odette is not. Hemmerechet claims in her article, ‘Oustide of the Cellar’ that whilst she does not attempt to excuse what Odette did, not least because it what would not be possible, she wishes to humanise her. In fact, I would argue that the language used by Hemmerechet only serves to dehumanise Odette/Martin. The lack of remorse shown by Odette’s blunt language is at times sickening.
And, whilst you were completely absorbed in the narrative of Odette, it still left the question of why she did not go down to the cellar and feed the two abducted children unclear. Her fear of her husband, as well as being completely under his control is obvious, yet her lack of remorse for her actions, or in this case inactions by allowing the abducted children to die of starvation, is shown through her consistently defensive position. In fact, learning about the case from the fictional perspective of Odette means the main story does not focus on the abduction and starvation. At times it seems like a two hundred page appeal, trying to convince us that Odette is not a wholly bad person.
My main feeling as I finished the novel was one of relief. After spending a long time in the head of a sociopath a break is certainly necessary. Whilst I’m not sure Hemmerechet achieved her goal of making me feel sympathy of her protagonist, it is difficult to argue that her characterisation was not sophisticated. Although it seemed at points that the language was too sharp, you could not distance yourself from Odette’s narrative. Once you start this novel, there is no going back or escape. So only read it if you’ve finished all your assignments kids.