As the brief introduction on the back of this book states: this novel caused a great furore when it was first published in (the then) Yugoslavia. Drakulic is a Croatian feminist who is not averse to tackling intensely taboo subjects in an open and direct way. Marble Skin is just that.
Central to this book is the mother-daughter relationship, a theme Drakulic punctuates with stifled emotions. The whole tale has an oppressive claustrophobic feel suited to the dense and dark exploration of the subject matter. The protagonist, on creating an alluring nude sculpture calls it ‘My Mother’s Body’. This sets the ball rolling as the book then transports us back via a kind of stream of consciousness technique to various memories and past events that have been instrumental in bringing her to the point of this sculptured symbol.
We begin in childhood where the young girl comes of age yet her mother too experiences a kind of sexual re-awakening and therein lays the taboo. Maternal love is juxtaposed with sexual lust. The catalogue of events that follow, riddled with rape, oppression, blood, pain, conflict and profound reticence create a deeply poignant story altogether unsettling – but that is the point. This is a disturbing read, a tour de force of angst-ridden scenes that are powerfully compelling. The ending does achieve a resolution of sorts (between mother and daughter) though it does seem that the character development necessary to achieve that was somewhat lacking.
The prose is simple and at times eerily clinical. I think some of the poetic dimension could be lost in translation; which I don’t feel does the novel enough justice. I cannot vouch for this with any real certainty however…There is a lot of serious commentary going on here, beneath the overtly tormented surface. A disquieting but worthy read.