Absence is situated centrally in Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden. Multiple absences. Multiple objects. Léger is asked to write a brief entry in a film encyclopaedia for Barbara Loden’s obscure film, Wanda, but gets drawn in. With the exception of Mickey Mantle, a legendary baseball player, himself struggling to find a form for his autobiography, few of those with information about Barbara Loden are willing to cooperate with Léger. No one involved will talk about the making of Wanda.
By the end of the book, I feel I’ve seen the film, though I haven’t and hope to do so one day. It isn’t easy to find. If Léger finds Loden difficult to pin down, the woman that inspired Loden’s story, Alma Malone is even more absent.
Léger’s book feels as improvised as Loden’s film. Achieving that degree of ambiguity and indetermination is a consequence of presence and hard work. My edition, from new publishing venture, Les Fugitives, feels like it has been scrupulously pared and shaped by Léger and its translators, Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon. Loden’s absence. Malone’s, Léger’s, her mother’s absence. Her objects are present, her objects are absent. Legér employs a concentrated language of absence to breathe life into multiple forms: autobiography, film criticism, biography and fiction.
It is haunting and clever, and another book that happily straddles genre lines.