The recent reemergence of stream-of-consciousness novels, such as “Not One Day” by Anne Garreta, has been a delight for this reviewer. In these works, authors explore the marvelous power that exists when narrative and form play against, reflect and contradict each other, the result being stories that feel more like experiences: something observed, shared; a punch, a memory.
In “Blue Self-Portrait” by Noemi Lefebvre, out this month from Transit Books, Lefebvre attempts to follow this lead, but her penchant for form outweighs the narrative, resulting in an artful, if inaccessible, short novel.
I’ll explain: “Blue Self-Portrait” takes place entirely within the confines of an airplane, as the narrator and her sister travel from Berlin to Paris.
Throughout the flight, the narrator reflects on a series of recent awkward encounters with a renowned German-American pianist — musings that bounce in a fascinating pinball-esque trajectory between the quality of education, the relationship between Nazism and the artworld, how women are to behave in society, and how sounds — particularly the lone mooing of a cow — can express emotion in a way words and actions simply cannot.
There also are beautiful slips from the narrator’s self into the mind of other characters, resulting in an ethereal overlap of stories.
But these various musings, which often occur multiple times within one long paragraph, sometimes within one long sentence, unfortunately lose their intended punch by floating away from any intended narrative without the slightest tether to keep readers focused.
Besides the flight coming to its conclusion in Paris, the story has no clear intent — no marker of suspense.
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This being said, for some the narrator’s literary and academic musings are more than sufficient for forward momentum — Lefebvre is a renowned intellectual in music and political circles, and her academic prowess is certain.
For readers craving a modern literary masterwork, “Blue Self-Portrait” will more than suffice.