Home > 1990, 20th Century, British Literature, Crime Fiction, Feminism, Novella, Zahavi Helen > Dirty Week-End by Helen Zahavi – And fear changes sides

Dirty Week-End by Helen Zahavi – And fear changes sides

Dirty Week-End by Helen Zahavi (1991) French title: Dirty Week-End. Translated by Jean Esch.

My Kube subscription brought me Dirty Week-End by Helen Zahavi, a society and feminist novella, one that was almost censored, according to the libraire who chose it for me. What a ride it was! It opens with this stunning paragraph:

This is the story of Bella, who woke up one morning and realized she’d had enough.

She’s no one special. England’s full of wounded people. Quietly choking. Shrieking softly so the neighbours won’t hear. You must have seen them. You’ve probably passed them. You’ve certainly stepped on them. Too many people have had enough. It’s nothing new. It’s what you do about it that really counts.

She could have done the decent thing. She could have done what decent people do. She could have filled her gently rounded belly with barbiturates, or flung herself, with gay abandon, from the top of a tower block. They would have thought it sad, but not unseemly. Alas, poor Bella, they would have said, as they shovelled what remained of her into the waiting earth. She must have had enough, they would have said. At least, she had the decency to do the decent thing.

As you imagine, Bella did not decide to do the decent thing. Quite the contrary.

Bella lives in Brighton, in a mezzanine flat. She’s single, lives a quiet life, reads a lot and keeps to herself. One day, she realizes that a man observes her from a nearby apartment. He starts calling her on the phone, he accosts her in her favourite park. Her life becomes filled with constant fear. She shuts herself away in her flat, closing the curtains. She stops answering the phone.

And one day, she has enough of living in fear. She doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. She doesn’t want to be afraid to go out, to open her windows or answer the phone. It’s time for fear to change side.

Bella goes over the edge and starts a killing spree against men who persecute her, force themselves on her or threaten her.

It’s a rough ride and of course Bella’s solution to her problem is not the right one. But Helen Zahavi shows one thing: how fear is ingrained in women. Don’t go out alone at night. Don’t walk in dark alleys. Don’t wear short dresses or plunging necklines. Don’t go in an unknown man’s car. Don’t accept a drink you haven’t prepared yourself. Take care of your own safety.

And Bella tells us it’s not normal to live in fear and in constant worry for one’s security. It’s not normal to be obliged to be prudent because you’re a woman. Bella seems to say: Enough. Guys, live my life. It’s your turn to be afraid.

I’ve read that Dirty Week-End caused an uproar when it was published and that a request for its interdiction was brought to the Parliament. Some people in 1991 England thought it was immoral, pornographic and subversive. Thirty years after its publication, I don’t see why this book should be censored. (or any book, but that’s another debate) Let me get this straight: a book with a man serial killer who preys upon women doesn’t raise an eyebrow and the reverse is immoral?

Dirty Week-End is not a revenge novel, as it has been labelled. It’s more a novel that makes some men uncomfortable because this time, the tables are turned.

Readable in one sitting. Highly recommended.

PS: Covers are interesting to compare, for that kind of book. They influence your view of the book. I think that the French and the American one with the gun are the most faithful to the text.

  1. March 16, 2021 at 10:33 pm

    Thanks for this review which will certainly send me to find a copy of the book


    • March 17, 2021 at 9:35 pm

      You’re welcome. I hope you’ll like it.


  2. March 17, 2021 at 12:43 am

    anything like Virginie Despentes?


    • March 17, 2021 at 9:46 pm

      Yes. She could have written that. I should read Baise-moi, btw.


  3. March 17, 2021 at 11:09 am

    Sounds a bit like Virginie Despentes but also a bit like the recent film (which I haven’t seen): Promising Young Woman. I may have to get this one – yet again, you tempt me.


    • March 17, 2021 at 9:47 pm

      It is a bit like Despentes and it’s a great book, even if it’s violent.


  4. March 17, 2021 at 1:36 pm

    Wow, fascinating and very timely. And I so agree – I’ve said before how sick I am of books in which women are tortured and killed, but men really don’t like it when the tables are turned do they?


    • March 17, 2021 at 9:49 pm

      Do you remember anything about the scandal around it when it was published? (Maybe you were too young?)

      Helen Zahavi describes well how Bella feels when the man observes her through the window, when he calls her. He enters her home, her physical safe place and doing this, he breaks in her mental safe place and pushes her over the edge.


      • March 18, 2021 at 5:53 pm

        I don’t recall it, but I would have just had my second Offspring so reading was not a thing I had much time for…. 😦

        Sounds quite chilling, though, and I would want my revenge after that too.

        Liked by 1 person

        • March 19, 2021 at 7:44 am

          Ah, yes, the non-reading zone of the first years after a baby is born. I had those too. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  5. March 17, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    It’s embarrassing that men are so predictable. Books about women being raped and murdered are just descriptions of real life. But a book about a woman murdering men (men who have threatened her) is somehow an incitement to action.
    I hope it is an incitement. It would be a safer world if there was less threatening going on.
    No, I don’t favour vigilantism, but the reporting rate let alone the conviction rate for crimes against women is totally depressing.
    (Last week a senior Australian cabinet minister was accused by the friends of a woman who had just killed herself of raping her when they were 15 and 17. Of course the response of the government was ‘nothing to see here’).


    • March 17, 2021 at 10:03 pm

      I have faith in the younger generation. My son is a lot more respectful of girls than the boys of my generation were of us.

      Here, at the moment, we have several scandals involving TV journalists or famous actors.
      What do these cases have in common? They all involve baby-boomer men.
      Either their victims are old enough to talk, which explains the number of scandals, or some men in this generation were part of a system where the droit du seigneur was normal.

      Things are moving in the right direction. The first stage was to acknowledge that we have a problem. It’s done. Maybe having a younger president helps too.

      I also think that the reporting rate and the conviction rate will increase. Here, there’s a state program to train policemen better in order to help women with the legal procedures, medical confidentiality is lifted in some circumstances so that doctors in ER can report cases…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. March 18, 2021 at 2:03 am

    Your timing is impeccable in writing about this book. I’d never heard of it or the controversy around it – imagine the outcry if there were as many books with women serial killers attacking men as there actually are of males attacking females.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 19, 2021 at 7:42 am

      I don’t understand why it was such a scandal. Me Too has changed things and we’re moving in the right direction.
      It’s a short and powerful book.

      Liked by 2 people

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