Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - feminism

King Kong Theory

Virginie Despentes

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase King Kong Theory

Title: King Kong Theory
Author: Virginie Despentes
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: French
Availability: King Kong Theory - US
King Kong Theory - UK
King Kong Theory - Canada
King Kong théorie - Canada
King Kong théorie - France
King Kong Theorie - Deutschland
King Kong Theory - Italia
Teoría King Kong - España
  • French title: King Kong théorie
  • Translated by Frank Wynne (2020)
  • Previously translated by Stéphanie Benson (2009)

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

A- : a key contemporary work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday* . 8/2/2009 Lesley McDowell
Irish Times . 7/11/2020 Barry Pierce
The Observer* . 24/1/2009 Rebecca Seal
TLS* . 10/4/2009 Lisa Hilton

(* review of a different translation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despentes's feminism is informed not so much by the personal but by the sexual. (There's not a great deal here about equal pay or childcare facilities.) It gives her writing an undeniable edge and urgency, although it can still seem a little out of date" - Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

  • "The manifesto is already a classic but Wynne finally offers us a translation as brash and effortlessly cool as Despentes herself." - Barry Pierce, Irish Times

  • "There are many ways in which King Kong Theory is interesting, but many more in which it is infuriating. (...) Another linguistic problem (and this may be partly the fault of the translator) is that Despentes falls into the trap that she castigates others for: she uses the generalised language that she claims to hate." - Rebecca Seal, The Observer

  • "King Kong Theory feels like a blow to the jugular of the received wisdom of current feminist theory. (...) There's enough here to keep the Daily Mail's knickers in a twist for years, but as with the reception of Charlotte Roche's recent pornographic novel Wetlands, our capacity to be shocked is part of the point. King Kong Theory is at times as naive as it is penetrating, but the fact that it appears so daring is a reminder of how complacent much of what passes for feminist thought has become." - Lisa Hilton, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       King Kong Theory consists of a series of seven essays by Virginie Despentes on the role and position of women in society and the inadequacy of popular feminism in addressing (much less redressing) many of the inequities and faults of the system. Things are a whole lot worse than we generally want to acknowledge, Despentes insists -- and part of the problem is that very refusal to acknowledge how things are; King Kong Theory is meant to be a corrective, brash and blunt, telling it like it is. Despentes' tone -- matter-of-fact and never shrinking back into a defensive position of victimhood -- is particularly effective here; a somewhat 'in your face' attitude is tempered by an acknowledgment that many gender roles are not one-size-fits-all, as she allows for different strokes for different folks (up to a point: much -- especially many male postures and actions -- is beyond the pale).
       Despentes' book is very personal, and very much informed by personal experience -- including that of rape and sex-work. She also presents herself as a particular kind of woman -- not necessarily outside the norm but certainly outside the social-convention-image of femininity:

As women go, I'm more King Kong than Kate Moss. I'm the sort of woman you don't marry, you don't have kids with; I speak as a woman who is always too much of everything she is: too aggressive, too loud, too fat, too brutish, too hairy, always too mannish, so they tell me.
       There's some posturing here, but Despentes fully embraces this identity, and runs with it; she knows who she is and feels very comfortable in her skin. In some respects, she is at extremes of the spectrum -- beginning with a teenage restlessness and adventurism, and her -- as she presents it -- single-minded determination for independence and experience-seeking -- but she both returns to and shows herself to understand more common and universal experience; the bourgeois lifestyle is entirely alien to her but even in regards to that she can acknowledge the commonalities with the female experience in general. Despentes does write very much from a distinct perspective -- French, white, raised in the post-1968 era --, and King Kong Theory is certainly of its place and time, but its basics do extend considerably beyond these.
       Some of her examples are -- or should be -- laughable, but show just how deep so many problems lie, as when she describes the first review she received for her 1993 book, Baise-Moi -- "By a guy. Three whole pages" -- and:
It's not the fact that the book doesn't work on its own terms that bothers this guy. Actually, he doesn't discuss the book. It's all about the fact that I'm a girl writing about female characters this way. [...] Who gives a fuck about the book ? It's my gender that matters.
       The essays, each focusing loosely on a different theme and subject -- though all gender-role and sex related -- connect fluidly; King Kong Theory is all of a piece, cri de cœur and manifesto. Personal experience is woven in throughout -- it is a very personal collection --, with Despentes managing the difficult balancing act of being very relatable even as that experience itself is, in many cases, alien to many readers. Sometimes she pushes the contrarian take and her difference a bit hard -- "I'm a punk and I'm proud of not really fitting in", she reminds readers -- but mostly it works. (She also recognizes the significance of 'image' -- acknowledging, for example: "the PR part of my job as a writer-as-media-phenomenon", understanding that her identity, as (the now well-known and 'notorious') 'Virginie Despentes', becomes part of the message.)
       Despentes does paint with very broad brushstrokes, and lashes out in all directions, but that's a big part of the appeal of the book: she doesn't mince words, or opinions. If often scattershot, the approach seems appropriate: the all-too-static status quo is so rotten to the core that fault can be found nearly wherever one looks. The range of basics she covers is wide, including:
     A shocking and profoundly revealing fact: the feminist revolution of the seventies didn't result in any restructuring of childcare arrangements. Nor in dealing with housework. [...] Why has no one come up with an equivalent of Ikea for childcare, an equivalent of Microsoft for housework ?
       Pointing out many of the faults, Despentes doesn't get very far in considering how to achieve real change (and, in particular, tackling the deeply-ingrained structures and attitudes that hold back broader change). But at least in poking the issue in the way she does, and bringing it to the fore, King Kong Theory serves to remind readers of so much that's wrong and that needs to change. Attitude certainly helps, and Despentes' isn't a bad place to start.
       King Kong Theory is notable for its voice -- both no holds barred and self-aware, enraged but not too aggressive. I hesitate to use the otherwise inappropriate term, but King Kong Theory is fun to read, in no small part because of that voice (neatly captured in this new translation by Frank Wynne). It's also well-crafted beyond that. Yes, in some ways it is limited in what it offers, especially in regards to what can be done, but it does prod -- forcefully but not hostilely -- to thought and reflection (and, one hopes, at least some action).
       Rough, in several respects, King Kong Theory is an essential text. An obvious read for teen girls -- seriously: on every bookshelf --, the audience it really should get is teen and college-age boys (and pretty much every male legislator in the United States, who could really use this kind of eye-opener -- and this kind of talk/voice).

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 May 2021

- Return to top of the page -


King Kong Theory: Reviews (* review of a different translation): Other books by Virginie Despentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       French author Virginie Despentes was born in 1969.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links