Suite for Barbara Loden

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Nathalie Léger is the award-winning author of Suite for Barbara Loden and Exposition, as well as an editor and archivist. She has curated exhibitions on Roland Barthes and Samuel Beckett for the Centre Pompidou, and is Director of the Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine, an organization dedicated to preserving the archives of modern 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.

pages: 128

format: paperback

isbn: 978-0-9973666-0-0

publication date: October 17, 2016

Suite for Barbara Loden

Nathalie Léger

translated by Natasha Lehrer & Cécile Menon

“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 *

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“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.

Suite for Barbara Loden is one part of a triptych of books by Nathalie Léger that includes Exposition and The White Dress.


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.” Richard Brody, 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.” Christine Smallwood, Harper’s Magazine

“The precariousness of the materials that document a life is a central preoccupation in Léger’s triptych of books—ExpositionSuite for Barbara Loden, and The White Dress—which are superbly translated by Amanda DeMarco, Natasha Lehrer, and Cécile Menon and published by the excellent small press Dorothy. Each examines a different woman, but these aren’t biographies as we typically know them. To conjure her subjects, Léger combines life writing, criticism, and personal rumination in a fragmentary and lyrical form that feels autofictional or even autotheoretical at times.” Nicole Rudick, The New York Review of Books

“The glory that Duras and Loden and Léger find in degradation isn’t a passive, incandescent despair—a psychic corpse by the side of the highway, radiant in the purity of its hopelessness—so much as the opposite: a despair that remains curious about the world, and thirsty for justice and company, whether it’s the company of critical subjects or a bunch of drunk strangers in a bar booth.” Leslie Jamison, Bookforum

“With mirrors and lenses, with echoes and silences, Léger’s books suggest that we may write and perform the stories of our lives, but our roles have also been written for us, and have already been performed by other women, whose experiences we may recognize as our own. In the end, the most original performance here is Léger’s, and it is undeniably virtuosic.” Eula Biss, The New Yorker

“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.” TLS

“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


cover art:

Wanda by Ruth Gwily (mixed media, 2005)

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.