‘Blue Self-Portrait’ by Noémi Lefebvre – Inspired Chatter


‘Blue Self-Portrait’ by Noémi Lefebvre (2009) – 139 pages Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis

Even though ‘Blue Self-Portrait’ is a relatively short novel, with its exceedingly long sentences and its unbelievably long paragraphs it is probably the most challenging book I have read this year. However at the same time, with its depth and its charm ‘Blue Self-Portrait’ is also one of the most rewarding novels I’ve read this year.

‘Blue Self-Portrait’ is a painting by the music composer Arnold Schoenberg which he did in his spare time.

Two sisters in their late twenties or early thirties are returning by airplane to Paris after a short vacation in Berlin. The one sister, our narrator, looks back on their time in Berlin and especially her romantic interlude with a German pianist composer. Meanwhile she is reading the correspondence between Theodor Adorno and Thomas Mann. This is a stream-of-consciousness novel like no other.

The sisters together on this trip sort of bring things down to earth. Otherwise this novel might have gotten too philosophical and abstract and dry. Here I will quote one of the shorter sentences just to give you the lively flavor of the writing.

I excuse my sister everything and myself nothing, not only do I excuse without calculation but I appreciate more than anything in my sister that which I loathe more than anything in myself, I consider magnificent in my sister whatever horrifies me in myself, am unconditional with my sister and always disappointed in myself.”

The pianist she met criticized our narrator for talking too much. She herself knows she talked too much, “sure that I’d put him off seeing me ever again, even by accident, instilled a lifelong revulsion in him for the kind of girl I am, the kind who talk too much and whose flaws we know well, who go on exasperating those around them down the generations, who ruin the lives of their husbands, children, and lovers, never content with that understanding silence required for happiness”.

But her endless chitting and chatting are some of the most profound and acute yet still charming conversations I have encountered.

Blue Self-Portrait

This is a deep work, yet the two sisters bring it down to Earth. As their plane flies over Wannsee Lake our narrator’s thoughts turn to the terrible Wannsee Conference at which the German Nazi officials planned the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, the systematic murder of millions of men, women, and children. The father of Reinhard Heydrich who was the director of the Wannsee Conference was also a composer of German music. January 20, 1942 which is the date of the conference is perhaps the most significant date for whole humanity. January 20 is also her sister’s birthday. This work has the courage to confront pure evil.

I doubt I will read another novel this year as intelligent and filled with ideas as this one. With her incredibly long sentences, Lefebvre manages to be deep yet charming at the same time. If you are up for a challenge, I recommend this one.



Grade :   A


5 responses to this post.

  1. This is a book that really interests me, I like the whole idea of it, and I’ve read other positive reviews as well.
    But I read Jim’s review at GR (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2398500566?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1) and he’s a reader who I admire (he loves Murnane, enough said) so I think his thoughts are interesting too.



    • Hi Lisa,
      Funny thing, I just started ‘Border Districts’ by Gerald Murnane, so you will see a review of that one here soon. This is my first Murnane
      Yes, the sentences in ‘Blue Self-Portrait’ are incredibly long and the paragraphs are unbelievably long. They are a challenge. However I found that the sentences and paragraphs are well worth the effort. It is unfair to take just one extremely lengthy stand-alone sentence, since it is in its context that it shines. However it takes a lot of concentration, and there have been plenty of times I wouldn’t have stuck with it.
      The novel is also somewhat about those two countries France and Germany which are so close together, but they speak different languages. . .

      Liked by 1 person


      • Yay, I’m looking forward to your review, hopefully you will love it and want to read his other books too:)
        I read a comment about Solar Bones today in The Guardian from someone who hoped that now that it had won the Dublin Lit Award they would bring out a punctuated version. So there are people so pedantic that they will deny themselves a beaut book because of their prejudice against new ways of writing… it doesn’t deter me. I’ll tackle anything if I think it might be interesting, and I don’t care if I don’t understand everything or miss allusions, as long as I enjoy it that’s all that matters IMO.

        Liked by 1 person


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