Nathalie Léger is an award-winning French author, as well as an editor, archivist, and curator. Supplément à la vie de Barbara Loden won the prestigious Prix du livre Inter 2012, voted for by readers across France. Other works include L’Exposition (2008), a semi-fictionalized essay about the enigmatic Countess of Castiglione, the most-photographed woman in late 19th-century Paris, and Les Vies Silencieuses de Samuel Beckett (2006). She curated the 2002 exhibition on Roland Barthes and the 2007 exhibition on Samuel Beckett, both at the Pompidou. Since 2013 she has been the Director of the Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine, a unique cultural institute dedicated to the archives of 20th- and 21st-century French writers.
Born in London, Natasha Lehrer is a writer, translator, and critic. She has edited and contributed to several books, and is literary editor of the Jewish Quarterly. She read English at Oxford University and has an MPhil in Comparative Literature from the Université de Paris VIII. She lives in Paris.
Cécile Menon is a French translator living in London. She has translated drama and contemporary poetry into French. This is her first literary translation into English.
Suite for Barbara Loden
“Inventive and affecting, it takes both the novel and the biography to new and interesting places.”—Eimear McBride
“Brilliant little book.” —Valeria Luiselli
* Winner of The Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation *
“I believe there is a miracle in Wanda,” wrote Marguerite Duras of the only film American actress Barbara Loden ever wrote and directed. “Usually, there is a distance between representation and text, subject and action. Here that distance is completely eradicated.” It is perhaps this “miracle”—the seeming collapse of fiction and fact—that has made Wanda (1970) a cult classic, and a fascination of artists from Isabelle Huppert to Rachel Kushner to Kate Zambreno. For acclaimed French writer Nathalie Léger, the mysteries of Wanda launched an obsessive quest across continents, into archives, and through mining towns of Pennsylvania, all to get closer to the film and its maker. Suite for Barbara Loden is the magnificent result.
Moving contrapuntally between biography and autofiction, film criticism and anecdote, fact and speculation, Suite for Barbara Loden is a stunning meditation on knowledge and self-knowledge, on the surfaces of life and art, and how we come to truth—a kind of truth—not through facts alone but through acts of the imagination.
Read an excerpt of the book in the September 2016 issue of The Paris Review. Let Brad at Diesel, A Bookstore tell you why you should read Léger’s book, and/or check out this video essay on Wanda over at vimeo.
“Here, now, is a remarkable new book that does everything—biography, criticism, film history, memoir, and even fiction, all at once, all out in front. . . . In her combination of the conversational and the incantatory, the fragmentary and the infinite, Léger captures something of [Marguerite] Duras’s own tones and moods, yet her approach to Loden and her appreciation of “Wanda” are entirely her own.” the new yorker
“Assigned to write the entry about Wanda (1970), Barbara Loden’s art-house movie, for a film encyclopedia, Léger let herself get lost. The result gracefully melds criticism, fiction, and autobiography, and is a powerful example of how summary, channeled through the most personal of perspectives, can be a form of art.” harper’s magazine
“When I set out to review Suite for Barbara Loden, I realized I didn’t have much to say, exactly, beyond what Léger says. I wanted to show how she shows how one woman’s experience is filtered through another, collapses into another. And I wanted to show how we (women) connect with Wanda—even extraordinary, glamorous, intellectual women like Léger or Loden, and even women generations younger than Wanda, like myself—how the book sucks in every woman who approaches it.” the rumpus
“What is initially Léger’s explicit hesitance to create a biography that does not do Loden justice is transformed into her own story, one of how the lives of women seep into one another.” larb
“[A] beautiful and intimate mixed portrait of Loden, Wanda, and Léger.” small press book review
“Moving descriptions of Loden’s performance in Wanda dot the narration as Léger struggles to reveal joy or pain Loden may have hidden, beyond her early work as a pin-up girl, her marriage to Elia Kazan, and a 1964 Tony Award for her role in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. Translators Lehrer and Menon give Léger’s voice immense verve in English as her small task becomes an obsession.” kirkus reviews
“I am not a movie buff — in fact, I rarely watch movies, especially the ‘important’ ones — but I realize I love reading descriptions of film scenes. There’s a kind of inert vividness to these descriptions, a scrim between me and the dramatic moment, that I find almost erotic. Léger intersperses descriptions of Wanda with passages about how she came to know this movie, how she tried and tried to understand Barbara Loden herself. Woven into these, too, are autobiographical asides. One begins: ‘Once upon a time the man I loved reproached me for my apparent passivity with other men.’ The result of these combined fragments is delicious and mysterious.” Edan Lepucki, “My Year in Reading,” the millions
“I hope this book inspires a new hybrid form of film criticism, where private excavation is also cooperative creativity.” Brad Johnson, Diesel Books (Lit Hub’s “Great Bookseller Fall 2016 Preview“)
“In Suite for Barbara Loden, Léger enacts a kind of double excavation in her desire ‘to excavate a miniature model of modernity’ that is Barbara Loden, an unearthing that has no teleological endpoint because it continues beyond the scope of the text being written. This excavation, indeed, must engage with the many texts that inform it, shaping the journey and, in effect, refracting the writing subject back on to herself—a fantasmatic act of the other becoming the self.” music & literature
“Beautifully translated” times literary supplement
“A moving, subtle novel about the need to create.” le monde
“Léger jump-cuts through time and space with the expertise of a movie director.” joanna walsh
“[A] mesmerizing work of unexpected beauty.” book riot
“Suite for Barbara Loden comes across as a dream, grounded in the women Léger researches but flowing into aspects she brings to life through fiction. . . The book absorbs in its absorption, its willful fixation on a subject she should have passed over altogether, or at the least done less with.” full stop
“I found Wanda thanks to Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden. Translated from the French last year by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon and tagged as fiction, Suite reads as part biography (of Loden), part memoir (of Léger), part critical study (of Wanda). It also offered a sensibility, a style, and ultimately, an interpretive lens through which to view the film, which emerges, in Léger’s reading, as a portrait of (female) submission as resistance.” the hairpin
Ruth Gwily is an Israel-based illustrator. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, etc. Learn more at her website.