Writer: Nina Leger (translated by Laura Francis)
Publishing House: Granta Books
Date of Publication: September 3rd 2019 (first published January 12th 2017)
Rating: 4 stars
‘’Gare de Lyon – exit left – pale neon lights. Jeanne stares at the tropical garden caged by glass walls. Dark, mordant greens; droplets of water on the branches, leaves that are upright and brooding, bushy or flat like the cars of small, agile boats; glistening stamens, grey earth. Real plants mingle with plastic facsimiles, but the brief halt at the station and the reflections in the glass make it impossible to distinguish the real from the fake.’’
Next stop in the Women In Translation month journey: a very particular and difficult to summarize novel about a young woman whose quest leads her to hotels, special low-quality shops and dark corners of the Internet, searching for the next ‘’object’’ to add in the collection. The readers walk with her in the streets of Paris and enter rooms where desires unfold. But what happens when these ‘’desires’’ are aimless, without clarity and fulfillment?
‘’Jeanne’’ is a mysterious character. Leger doesn’t reveal her true name or occupation. We know nothing of her past, her education, her family. All we learn is her obsession, her endless search for something that may not exist, her inability to recognize any purpose in life except for a faceless, meaningless intimacy with men. Leger’s prose is fascinating. The depiction of the Parisian setting is powerful in its antithesis with ‘’Jeanne’s ‘’ mentality. In a city that is lively, full of light and motion, ‘’Jeanne’’ moves like a harmless succubus, watching, choosing her companion of the moment. Men who view her as a vessel and others who want to know her better, impressed by her ‘’talent’’. It makes no difference to her because ‘’Jeanne’’ is sick. There is no word to sugarcoat her choices. And yet, Leger keeps the readers at a distance and at the same time, our attention is undiminished. How far will this woman go? When is this way of life going to turn against her?
She doesn’t justify her actions -why should she, anyway? – and moves on from hotel to hotel, from man to man, from defiance to determination, to disappointment. Is she the victim or the perpetrator of her unhappiness? Because she is deeply unhappy and problematic. Does she derive even the slightest form of fulfillment? These are questions that may have no answers within the pages. The writer lets us draw our own conclusions.
Connecting with ‘’Jeanne’’ may be difficult. Not all novels ask us to form a bond with the characters. However, the way in which Leger has woven a story with a rather uneventful plot and a theme that won’t appeal to many of us is masterful. She has taken simple ingredients to create a unique form of Literary Fiction and the result is striking.
Beautiful, raw, melancholic translation by Laura Francis.
‘’Uniform sky, a dove-grey canvas stretched between the tower blocks; cars roll in an unbroken line across the horizon; at regular intervals, the varnished brown of some streetlight interrupts the alignment of trees; cops glide by on bicycles, eyeing up the wedding bouquets: banal geometry which Jeanne matches with her steps, her breathing and her thoughts.’’
Many thanks to Granta Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.