Albertine Prize Nominee: Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger

April 13, 2017 | By FRENCH CULTURE BOOKS

Suite for Barbara Loden has been nominated for the Albertine Prize, a reader's choice award for best contemporary French fiction in English translation. Moving between fact and speculation, film criticism and anecdote, Suite for Barbara Loden came out of Nathalie Léger's obsessive investigation into the mysteries of 'Wanda', the only film American actress Barbara Loden ever wrote and directed. Translated by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon (Dorothy, a publishing project). Vote for the Albertine Prize through April 30th!

An Excerpt from Suite for Barbara Loden 

Seen from a distance, a woman, etched against the darkness. Whether it is a woman, in fact, is hard to tell, we’re so far away. Framed by mountains of rubble, a tiny white figure, barely more than a dot against the dark expanse, slowly and steadily picks its way through this huge mass of debris: a vast, towering slagheap, intersected with great mounds of excavated rock, stony depressions, muddy tracks waiting to be ploughed up by the trucks. In a wide-angle shot, we follow this minute, ethereal figure as it makes its way intently along the forbidding horizon. At times the dust absorbs and dissolves the figure as it doggedly moves on, lit up for a moment, now just a vague, blurry smudge, now almost transparent, like a backlit hole in the picture, a blind spot on the decimated landscape. Yes, it is a woman.

Earlier we saw her sitting at the back of an empty bus, gazing out but seeing nothing, and we heard her name, twice, as though it were being flung, Wanda, Wanda, a man’s voice, casting over the story a muted, anxious question, the only time he utters her name.

We are inside the house now, we see the meagerly furnished rooms, things left lying about, an old woman sitting in the back holding a rosary, her face yellow in the pale streaky light, gaze fixed hard on something that disappeared long ago. We pan back a little; a child is running around her. We pan back further and see a woman from behind, she’s wearing a nightdress, her disheveled hair is pinned up, her weary shoulders droop . . . we think this must be her, this must be the heroine. We pan back further still, there is a baby on a bed, crying. We glide toward the dimly lit kitchen, she has taken the infant in her arms, we wonder where she will find milk, she moves slowly, sighs, opens the refrigerator, moves some dishes out of the way, vaguely tries to calm the cries. A man suddenly appears, the father presumably; he passes through, muttering, exits. We follow him; the door slams as we see a body stretched out under a sheet, a blonde woman, about thirty, slowly emerging. There are hair curlers and drink cans on the floor by the couch. She sits up, still half-asleep, He’s mad because I’m here, she looks out of the window, the forbidding horizon is choked up to the sky, trucks are maneuvering in the dust. It’s her, it’s Wanda.

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