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A dangerously hurt little bird. Writer Caroline De Mulder delved into the world of girl gangs and sugardating

Girl gangs and sugar dating - these are the themes of Bambi will eat you raw. Caroline De Mulder (44) wanted to talk about the violence of women rather than against women. 'I could work out the dark, aggressive sides in myself without bashing someone's head in.'

The protagonist of Bambi will eat you raw, 16-year-old Hilda, or Bambi, as her nickname goes, grows up in poverty with an alcoholic mother. By seducing wealthy men with her friends, she thinks she can create a better life for herself, and she does not shy away from violence in the process. A reality that is becoming increasingly common, Belgian writer Caroline De Mulder sees in France, where she lives and works. 'Girl gangs I find an interesting contemporary phenomenon. It is rising in the banlieues from Paris or Marseille. Often these girls are small and petite, they still have something childlike about them. So when those in such a violent, brutal corridor steps, that is a stark contrast. Plenty has been written about violence against women, but violence by women is still a taboo subject. I found that exciting to write about.'

Why are girl gangs so prevalent in France in particular?

'In the suburbs of France's big cities, there is a lot of violence anyway, including against women. To defend themselves and hold their own in that violent environment, young women are increasingly joining together to form a team. Girl gangs are also on the rise in Belgium. It is not yet as common as in France, but there are some things going on. A few years ago, for example, there was a gang in Bruges that caused a lot of damage. Women can become very violent if they are in the wrong circumstances.'

You combined it with another contemporary phenomenon, the so-called sugar dating. Something that plays out in France and Belgium, but also in the Netherlands.

'To do research, I registered on sugar dating websites, both as a sugardaddy and as a 'sugarbaby. Students think that through that site they will meet a rich man who will pay for their studies, but actually it is a masked form of prostitution. The man behind the site richmeetbeautiful.com denies this; he claims that people just go to a restaurant together and that the sugardaddy occasionally gives a gift. But in the end, those men - or women - usually really do want something other than just dinner or a stroll.'

Do the young women who sign up for it not know what they are getting into?

'Some are more naive than others, but I noticed that many of these girls have the hope that they don't have to give so much in return for what they want to get. There is an air of glamour around it. I think this has been fostered by the success of the novel Fifty shades of grey that got in the way; in it, you see a relationship between a banker and a college student. But on the dating sites and forums where sugar babies chat with each other, I haven't come across any glamour.'

What do women in these gangs and sugar babies have in common?

'They are women who think they can get money easily. They are looking for the happiness that is presented to us in the media, dreaming of beautiful branded clothes and beaches in Thailand. These girls think: why can't I have a nice and easy life? They think everything gets better as long as you have pennies.'

 At the same time, the other side is also covered: women ending up in shelters and clinics.

'Indeed, I have also looked into shelters where girls like that are taken care of when things go wrong. It's a harsh reality, you know. Especially in France, many young women think it will be easy, and then end up in prostitution without realising it. These women, girls like Bambi and her friends, are definitely not feminists. Both the sugar babies and the young women in the gangs have fake dreams in mind. They don't value themselves enough. And these women in gangs are rather dismissive of their femininity, they behave like boys and are very sassy.'

What kind of person is Bambi?

'I wanted a strong female character in my novel. Bambi is certainly not perfect; she makes many mistakes and there are many flaws in her assessment of the world. She is not sympathetic, but I do hope she generates empathy in the reader as they begin to understand her. In the end, Bambi is actually still a child who thinks she is already a woman. You can see this, for instance, in the relationship with her mother, from whom she cannot really break free. Bambi reacts aggressively to an environment that is violent towards her. We live in a violent society, where many people are something like an aggressive animal. We just don't like to see that.'

What was it like to get into the skin of such a woman?

'I find Bambi a difficult and unsympathetic but also immovable character, to whom I have become attached anyway. I can understand her anger. Bambi is a hurt little bird. A dangerously hurt little bird, that is. But despite everything, she defends her mother, who does not treat her well, through thick and thin and she is also loyal to her friends. So she has a nice human side too. Writing this novel was like a catharsis for me. It allowed me to work out the dark, aggressive sides in myself without bashing anyone's head in.'

You just mentioned that violence by women is still a taboo subject. How have the reactions to the novel been?

'Surprisingly positive, although there were some people who found the book too dark. But that is a small minority. It was also well received in the French press. Many journalists considered Bambi a victim. I then explained that it is more complicated: she is a victim - especially of herself - but also an executioner. This is difficult, I notice, and it has to do with that taboo: women are mainly seen as victims. I actually find that a bit unfeminist and condescending. Victimhood and perpetration are often close to each other, even among women. Women can be just as violent.'

But surely it ís true that women are much more likely to be victims of physical or sexual violence?

'Absolutely, and that is not to be condoned. But I think the percentage of men who are abused by their wives is higher than we know. What man dares to say he is beaten by his wife? There are also plenty of women who beat their children, like Bambi's mother does.'

You are bilingual, but only write in French. Why didn't you translate it into Dutch yourself?

'Because I received my schooling in French, my written Dutch is too wooden. I could not have translated it as well as translator Petra van Caneghem has done. But because Dutch is my mother tongue, I do have a feel for it. Sometimes this was a little awkward, when I had different ideas about words and phrases than she did, but overall the cooperation went smoothly.'

Was it difficult to translate that French slang into Dutch slang?

'Yes, Petra has researched street language and talked to street workers. There are also all kinds of dictionaries that are constantly updated and other online resources. I myself, for instance, did a lot of listening on YouTube and chat forums to the way the young people I describe speak. It was intense work, but also fascinating. Like learning a new language, with different imagery and rhythm. I tried to portray not only the reality of that language, but more importantly its poetry.'

Good to know Good to know

Caroline De Mulder, Bambi will eat you raw. 205 p., Horizon, €22.99

A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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