Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre

Review published on June 10, 2017.

Blue Self-Portrait, the debut novel by Noémi Lefebvre, was originally published in her native France in 2009. It’s now being released in English translation by Les Fugitives, a new press that publishes short works by francophone women authors previously unavailable in the UK. The translator, Sophie Lewis, is a former Senior Editor with And Other Stories.

This is a somewhat difficult book to characterise. In essence, it is the internal monologue of a woman on a plane ride back from Berlin. She happens to be reading the correspondence that passed between Thomas Mann and Theodor W. Adorno. In her mind she moves back and forth between German and French, snippets of which appear in the text, as she relives her unusual romantic encounters with a male pianist/composer in Berlin, such as a meeting at the Kaiser Café and a film at the Sony Centre. Fragments of her personal history share space with incidents from wider history: her failed marriage versus flying over the Wannsee and thinking of the Conference that took place there in 1942.

This stream of consciousness is the narrator’s attempt at achieving self-knowledge. Simultaneously offhand and earnest, she plays with language and memory in a verbal riff on composer Arnold Schoenberg’s 1910 painting, Blue Self-Portrait. Even at novella length, this is not a particularly easy read – the paragraphs, in blocks of justified text, run to several pages; even some individual sentences last a page and a half or so – so I can recommend it only to those who enjoy reading a more experimental style of fiction by women authors (Eimear McBride, Rachel Cusk et al.).

Rebecca Foster 3/1

Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre
Les Fugitives 9780993009327 pbk Jun 2017

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