Translated by Sophie Lewis
A French woman haunted by her encounter with an American-German pianist-composer who is obsessed with Arnold Schoenberg’s portrait, flies home with her lively sister and a volume of Adorno's letters to Thomas Mann. While the impossible heroine unpicks her social failures the pianist reaches towards a musical self-portrait with all the resonance of Schoenberg’s passionate, chilling blue. A 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.
Shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses 2018 and for the Scott Moncrieff Prize 2018
‘In Lefebvre’s hands, the “history of me” becomes the “history of us.”’
‘Were we to note the musical expression with which Blue Self-Portrait is performed, it would be con bravura, or even staccato: unchained, wildly.’
– Amanda DeMarco, BOMB
‘These subjects, ranging from anxiety that his sexual desirability is dependent on his girlfriend imagining she’s sleeping with the next Schoenberg, to the paralysing effect of nazism on art, to beautiful insights into the compositional process, ensure that the book is no melancholic meditation on lost loves. For a comparatively short novel, Blue Self-Portrait yokes together an extraordinary profusion of ideas.’
– The Guardian
‘Like an application of the prose style of Thomas Bernhard to a particular female experience more reminiscent of Bridget Jones: a form of acute social embarrassment and chronic self-deprecation. The strength of Lefebvre’s novel is that it holds this private anxiety in balance not just with the highbrow cultural references of a well-educated European elite (Brecht, Mann and Adorno all get nods) but with the trauma of the Continent's recent history.’
– Times Literary Supplement
‘The feminist muse is an artist, too. No silent sitter, she swaps the easel-facing chaise for a work space wholly hers, sloughing off the obligation to inspire. Noemi Lefebvre’s novel Blue Self-Portrait glances askance at the mythos of male genius and the mute, compliant notion of womanhood on which it relies. Through masterful formal play, Lefebvre’s novel delights in mussing over-simple distinctions between artist and subject, insisting instead on a mutual, two-way gaze.’
– Public Books
‘Yet it’s not Schoenberg to whom the narrator turns, for comfort, for closure, as the plane descends into Paris, it’s not Brahms, or Beethoven, or Mann, it’s not any man. It’s her sister, who has sat by her side the whole time (…) I could continue writing about this book, its impressive brief heft, both self-portrait and prismatic reference, long into the night, but rather I think I’ll go call my sister, whose own maximum is fearful to behold, because, after all I have already said too much and it’s time, instead, to listen.’
– On the Seawall
‘L’autoportrait bleu calls to mind fine lacework, all fancy stitching, a delicate succession of interconnected loops. Nothing but beautiful work here. In this devilishly virtuosic text, which also evokes contrapuntal music, Noémi Lefebvre writes like a genuine composer. It’s rare to find a writer successfully able to lend a musical shape to their text. Lefebvre has taken up the challenge in this astonishing, vertiginous account.’
– Le Figaro littéraire
‘The dense, fine-tuned, ever perfectionist writing in this debut novel reinforces its immediacy, grips the reader to the point of obsession.’
‘A weighty, literary, text, and other than length it is not a “small” book. It is ideas and emotion-rich, and for anyone else who’s all into this contemporary stream of consciousness revival, it’s definitely worth your time.'
– Triumph of the Now
‘As the plot unfolds among Berlin’s cultural institutions Lefebvre’s musical prose reflects the multidisciplinary approach of the artist it pays homage to.’
– Big Issue North
‘Beautifully pitched and compellingly virtuosic (...) Blue Self-Portrait accomplishes its own inner musicality, while presenting the spectre of a self-portrait lived between memory, association and speculation.’
– Contemporary Small Press
Read more reviews here.