Author(s): Noemi Lefebvre
Novel | Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018 | Read our reviews!
Description: The inner monologue of a woman haunted by German composer Arnold Schoenberg's portrait, further to a complex romantic encounter with an American-German pianist-composer in Berlin. As the irresistible, impossible narrator flies home she unpicks her social failures while the pianist reaches towards a musical self-portrait with all the resonance of Schoenberg's passionate, chilling blue. A contemporary novel of angst and high farce, Blue Self-Portrait unfolds among Berlin's cultural institutions but is more truly located in the mid-air flux between contrary impulses to remember and to ignore. In Blue Self-Portrait Noemi Lefebvre shows how music continues to work on and through us, addressing past trauma while reaching for possible futures.
Review: " ... something of the art of Cluny lace in L'autoportrait bleu. Noemi Lefebvre's devilishly virtuose writing, which also evokes contrapunctual music. Rare are the authors who succeed in giving their work a musical scope that really works. " Le Figaro litteraire,10 best debut novels of 2009
Author Biography: Noemi Lefebvre was born in 1964 in Caen, and now lives in Lyon, France. After studying music and completing a degree focused on music education and national identity in Germany and France, she became a political scientist at CERAT de Grenoble II Institute. She is the author of three novels, all of which have garnered intense critical success: her debut novel L'Autoportrait bleu (2009), L'etat des sentiment a l'age adulte (2012) and L'enfance politique (2015). She is a regular contributor to the independent media Mediapart.
Promotional Information: Sophie Lewis is a literary editor and translator from French and Portuguese into English. While Senior Editor at fiction publisher And Other Stories, she edited authors both writing in English and in translation, including Deborah Levy, Lina Wolff and Juan Pablo Villalobos. She has translated Stendhal, Jules Verne, Marcel Ayme, Violette Leduc, Emmanuelle Pagano and Joao Gilberto Noll, among others.
It takes approximately an hour and a half to fly from Berlin to Paris. Upon that hour and a half, a human memory, especially one working at neurotically obsessive speed, can loop a very large amount of time indeed, an hour and a half is plenty of time to go over and go over the things, or several of the things, the unassimilable things, that happened in Berlin, in an attempt to assimilate those things, although they are not assimilable, in an attempt, rather, albeit an involuntary attempt, an unconscious attempt, if that can be called an attempt, to damage oneself by the exercise of one’s memories, to draw self-blame and self-disgust from a situation the hopelessness of which cannot be attributed to anything worthy of self-blame or self-disgust but which is sufficiently involved to exercise the self-blame and self-disgust that seethe always beneath their veneer of not-caring, of niceness, the veneer that preserves self-blame and self-disgust from resolution into anything other than self-blame and self-disgust. Upon this hour and a half can be looped, such is the efficacy of human memory, not only, obsessively, the unassimilable things that happened in Berlin but also much else that happened even into the distant past, but, largely speaking, the more recent things that have bearing upon, or occupy the same memory-pocket, not the best metaphor, as the unassimilable things that happened in Berlin, for disappointment and failure seldom happen in a vacuum but resonate with, even if they are not the direct result of, disappointments and failures reaching back even into the distant past, perhaps especially into the distant past, self-blame and self-disgust having the benefit, or detriment, if a difference can be told between benefit and detriment, of binding experiences, or clumping them, to form an identity, and, not only this, upon that hour and a half can be looped also an endless amount of speculation and projection as to what may be occurring in the minds of others, or in the mind of, in this case, a specific other, a German-American pianist and composer with whom the narrator, who has been visiting Berlin with her sister, has had some manner of romantic encounter, so to call it, the extent of which is unclear, both, seemingly, to the narrator and, certainly, to the reader, the reader being necessarily confined to the mental claustrophobia of the narrator, on account of the obsessive speculation and projection and also the inescapable escapist and self-abnegating fantasising on the part of the narrator, together with the comet-like attraction-and-avoidance of her endless mental orbit around the most unassimilable things that happened in Berlin, or that might have happened in Berlin, or that did not happen in Berlin but are extrapolative fantasies unavoidably attendant upon what happened in Berlin, untrue but just as real as truth, for all thoughts, regardless of actuality, do the same damage to the brain. Lefebvre’s exquisitely pedantic, fugue-like sentences, their structure perfectly indistinguishable from their content, bestow upon her the mantle of Thomas Bernhard, which, after all, does not fall upon just any hem-plucker but, in this case, fully upon someone who, not looking skyward, has crawled far enough into its shadow when looking for something else. Where Bernhard’s narrators tend to direct their loathing outwards until the reader realises that all loathing is in fact self-loathing, Lefebvre’s narrator acknowledges her self-loathing and self-disgust, abnegating herself, rather, for circumstances in which self-abnegation is neither appropriate nor inappropriate, her self-abnegation arising from the circumstances, from her connection with the circumstances, from her rather than from the circumstances, her self-abnegation not, despite her certainty, having, really, any effect upon the circumstances. Not at all not-funny, pitch-perfect in both voice and structure, full of sly commentary on history and modernity, and on the frailties of human personality and desire, providing for the reader simultaneous resistance and release, Lefebvre shares many of Bernhard’s strengths and qualities, and the book contains memorable and affecting passages such as that in which the narrator recalls playing tennis with her mother-in-law, now her ex-mother-in-law, and finding she is not the type for ‘collective happiness’, or her hilariously scathing descriptions of Berlin’s Sony Centre or of the restaurant in what was Brecht's house, or of the narrator's inability to acknowledge the German-American pianist-composer's wife as anything but 'the accompaniment' — or, indeed, many other passages — but the excellence of the book is perhaps less in the passages than in the book as a whole.