21 December 2015

Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert | Self-Portrait in Green (2004)

Marie NDiaye's Autoportrait en vert was originally one of Colette Fellous's 'Traits et Portraits' collection published by Mercure de France, included in which, for example, are J-B Pontalis's in Le dormeur éveillé and Pierre Guyotat's Coma. The series also includes photos relating to the events in the books, and here old photos are used along with new ones by Julie Ganzin, such as the one on the front cover typically showing a girl in soft focus in the foreground and the background scenery set to infinity.

Just how much of a 'self-portrait' this is of Marie NDiaye is of course unknown, although there are moments when the narrative veers off into the fantastic, and certainly many of the events in the narrative have an oneiric quality. Essentially, these are snatches of existences recalled in memory or imagination, if indeed there is any difference between the two. The woman in green standing by the tree whom the narrator sees four times a day – on the way to taking her children to school and going back, then going to school to pick them up and bring them back – is interesting.

The woman isn't seen by the children, perhaps suggesting that green here is intended to represent an adult element. The narrator asks the children a Berkeleyan question that they're unable to answer: 'The woman in green is there every day. Is she there when I'm not there?' The woman attempts to kill herself by jumping from the building to the ground, but gets up apparently unhurt, which seems almost to be a premonition of Wellington being pushed from the hotel balcony in Ladivine and miraculously surviving.

The woman says her name is Katia Depetiteville, which the narrator thinks is improbable but appears to accept and becomes friends with her; the narrator's husband (Jean-Yves like NDiaye's) frees Katia from the flood which forever threatens those who live near the Garonne; and the two women become friends until the narrator takes her to see her two sisters and Katia feels uncomfortable and leaves: the narrator feels uncomfortable too and would have preferred to leave with her.

But then, families are often an embarrassment in NDiaye's world, which is one in which the generations can sometimes mix sexually. Such as the narrator's mother living with a much younger man in Marseilles, or her ex-friend (in green) becoming her step-mother by marrying her father, who's been married several times and whose eldest son smashes their restaurant with a golf club: that's the trouble with having too many children, the narrator muses. And the father and step-mother make a later appearance when the narrator visits (as an author) not Senegal but Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, where she dreads that her literature-hating father will show up.

And then there's Jenny, whose son and husband have left her, who has no money and in poverty goes back to live with her parents, and then meets her former lover Ivan, who's now happily married. So Jenny lives their happiness by proxy, spending a great deal of time with Ivan's (green) wife, but apparently too much time as the wife kills herself and Jenny finds her hanging in the basement. It's not long before Jenny marries Ivan, but then his ex-wife seems to come to life again. It's a strange world, Marie NDiaye's.

Links to my other Marie NDiaye posts:

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Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison

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