SUITE FOR BARBARA LODEN
Translated by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon
First published in France in 2012 to critical and popular acclaim, this is the first book about the remarkable American actress and filmmaker Barbara Loden. Loden’s 1970 film Wanda is a masterpiece of early cinéma vérité, an anti-Bonnie-and-Clyde road movie about a young woman, adrift in rust-belt Pennsylvania in the early 1960s, who embarks on a crime spree with a small-time crook.
How to paint a life, describe a personality? Inspired by the film, a researcher seeks to piece together a portrait of its creator. In her soul-searching homage to the former pin-up girl famously married to Hollywood giant Elia Kazan, the biographer’s evocative powers are put to the test. New insights into Loden’s sketchy biography remain scarce and the words of Marguerite Duras, Georges Perec, Jean-Luc Godard, Sylvia Plath, Kate Chopin, Herman Melville, Samuel Beckett and W.G. Sebald come to the narrator’s rescue. As remembered scenes from Wanda alternate with the droll journal of a flailing research project, personal memories surface, and with them, uncomfortable insights into the inner life of a singular woman who is also, somehow, every woman.
Winner of the 2016 Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation from the French
Shortlisted for The French-American Foundation Translation Prize 2017
Longlisted for The Albertine Prize 2017
Backlisted Podcast, John Mitchinson and Andy Miller are joined by Dickon Edwards to discuss books by Angus Wilson, Nathalie Léger, Jane Austen, Nicholas Mosley and Susan Sontag, 4 February 2019
‘Brilliant little book’ – Valeria Luiselli
‘Beautifully translated’ – Times Literary Supplement
‘It is a real gem of a piece of writing. Highly original and very powerful’ – Jenny McPhee
‘Léger jump-cuts through time and space with the expertise of a movie director’ – Joanna Walsh
‘Takes both the novel and biography to new and interesting places.’
– Eimear McBride, Guardian Books of the Year, 2015
'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
'A little gem (...) a powerful example of how summary, channeled through the most personal of perspectives, can be a form of art.'
– Harper's Magazine
'One of my favorite pieces, a multigenre portrait of Léger, Loden, and Wanda (the titular subject of Loden’s 1970 film, which Loden wrote and directed and in which she stars). Léger sets out to write a short notice of Loden for an encyclopedia but quickly becomes mired in the task. How do you describe a person you don’t know? What constitutes their essentialness? And how do you tell their story simply? Since closing our Winter issue last week, I’ve taken up the rest of the book, and I’ve found it to be one of the most affecting stories I’ve read in a long time. A mix of observation, recitation, and imagination, Suite persists in the idea that no single perspective is sufficient in gaining an understanding of a person, and also, perhaps, that no accumulation of perspectives is sufficient either.'
– The Paris Review
'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, The Millions, A Year in Reading 2016
'This beautiful book is striking for its echoes of artists who are either quoted or (never gratuitously) emulated, including Godard, Fred Wiseman, Sebald and Perec.’
– La Quinzaine littéraire
'A moving, subtle novel about the need to create’
– Le Monde
'...one more addition to a growing group of books that sit somewhere between poetry, fiction, and expansive non-fiction: Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts, Claudia Rankine's Citizen, Michael Kimball's Galaga, Kier-La Janisse's House Of Psychotic Women, Geoff Dyer's Zona all come to mind reading Suite For Barbara Loden.'
– City Paper (Baltimore)
‘In hugely reductive terms, this is Geoff Dyer’s Zona meets Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick: an open and intelligent piece of art criticism drifts into broader critique of social and cultural issues, and is honest about the fact that it can’t do any of these without also being autobiographical. That it is published in a beautiful edition that gives a boutique twist on the classic French livre de poche style, by a brand new British publisher proudly asserting their ownership of an important but overlooked niche, only adds to the charm. Book of the year.’
– Jonathan Gibbs
‘An extraordinary book. It reads compulsively and is unlike anything else I have read.’
– Selma Dabbagh
‘Immensely readable, extremely thought-provoking and really quite haunting […] And best of all, it achieves that most elusive feat of never reading like a translation.’
– Lydia Syson
'A truly remarkable book. I love Leger's obsessive circling, the connections she draws in and through the Loden/Wanda narrative, some deeply haunting images ...’
– Anna Zalakostas (Green Apple Books, San Francisco)
Read more reviews here.