France’s notoriously lofty literary world is watching in slack-jawed amazement as two of the country’s leading female writers lunge at each other with daggers drawn in a ferocious battle about plagiarism. The mutual obsession of Camille Laurens and Marie Darrieussecq was reflected in the appearance last week of books by each of them about their feud. One was a studious analysis of literary theft; the other was a thinly veiled fictional account of a novelist who is dropped by her publisher after accusing a young rival of plagiarism. It all began with the publication of a novel by Darrieussecq in 2007, when she still shared a publisher with Laurens. Tom Est Mort (Tom Is Dead) tells the story of a woman whose baby dies shortly after being born. Laurens, who had lost a baby two hours after his birth and who had written movingly about it in a book called Philippe in 1995, accused Darrieussecq of “psychological plagiarism”, a new term in French letters. Darrieussecq, 40, whose first novel, Pig Tales, about a bulimic beautician who turns into a sow, was a bestseller, called Laurens’s claim “vile” and denied literary theft. The national media have gorged on the spat and on claims that Laurens, 52, was jealous of the success of the younger author, whose pig book had made her the new favourite of Paul Otchakovsky, the dashing editor shared by the writers. Laurens was devastated when Otchakovsky, who is head of the POL publishing company, sided with Darrieussecq. He in effect sacked Laurens by announcing in Le Monde, the favourite newspaper of the literary elite, that he no longer wished to publish her books.