French writer and curator Léger’s remarkable and engrossing work, the first in a trilogy of essayistic, biographical novels focusing on the experiences of historical women (the second, Suite for Barbara Loden, was the first to be published in English), studies Virginia Oldoïni, countess of Castiglioni (1837–1899). In 2005, the unnamed narrator is preparing a museum exhibition in France about ruins, and in her research comes across the image of a woman holding a knife—one of the hundreds of photographs of Oldoïni, who posed for the Parisian photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson for 40 years, even as her legendary beauty waned along with her status in French society. This photograph sets off the narrator’s all-consuming, two-year attempt to stage an exhibition of Oldoïni’s life. Interspersed with descriptions of photographs of Oldoïni and her biography—she had an affair with Napoleon III and ended her days as a recluse—are meditations on other artists and works of art and a fragmentary narrative of the narrator’s mother, whose husband left her for another woman. With no plot or linear chronology, the strands still cohere miraculously, held together by the intensity of Léger’s engagement with Oldoïni. Léger’s vigorous work consistently satisfies, with ideas crystallizing with the clarity of a photograph. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/19/2020 Release date: 09/01/2020 Genre: Fiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.