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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Self-Portrait in Green

Marie NDiaye

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To purchase Self-Portrait in Green

Title: Self-Portrait in Green
Author: Marie NDiaye
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 103 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Self-Portrait in Green - US
Self-Portrait in Green - UK
Self-Portrait in Green - Canada
Autoportrait en vert - Canada
Self-Portrait in Green - India
Autoportrait en vert - France
Selbstporträt in Grün - Deutschland
  • French title: Autoportrait en vert
  • Translated by Jordan Stump

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Our Assessment:

B : effectively portentous, but somewhat held back by its personal baggage

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 7/2/2005 Marianne Payot
Libération . 30/9/2006 Frédérique Fanchette
Die Zeit . 23/5/2011 Marie Schmidt

  From the Reviews:
  • "Soudain, Marie NDiaye déchire le voile. C'est à la page 87 de ce bref et envoûtant récit. Tout aussi sombre que lumineux. Comme la vie. Comme la Garonne ..." - Marianne Payot, L'Express

  • "L'«autoportrait» de Marie NDiaye, où elle a mis beaucoup d'éléments de sa vie, est morcelé, il faut le reconstituer à travers ces projections que sont les femmes en vert. Pas une mince affaire, car les phrases égarent par un trop-plein de justesse, et on ne sait plus très bien où est le vrai, où est le rêvé." - Frédérique Fanchette, Libération

  • "All dies Geisterhafte wird mit schwebender Ruhe und Aufgeräumtheit berichtet. Marie NDiaye kann nur deshalb ganz und gar einnehmend von untergründigen Strömungen und unsichtbaren Wesenheiten sprechen, weil ihr Ton nichts Geheimniskrämerisches hat." - Marie Schmidt, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Self-Portrait in Green begins and returns repeatedly to December 2003, the river the Garonne "rising hour after hour in the dark", threatening to inundate the French village where the narrator lives if it breaches the local levees.
       It's not an unexpected danger:

It's the first thing you learn when you make up your mind to settle in this place, eternally under threat from the floodwaters of the Garonne.
       Against this backdrop of rising, threatening waters, the narrator also turns back to events of the past few years. In particular, a variety of women in green haunt the narrative -- from visions she apparently imagines (that's how powerful the idea is in her mind) to tangible women presenting themselves in variations of green. As she -- a writer closely resembling the author -- also reminds herself at one point in trying to make some sense of this:
I need to remember they're there, at once real beings and literary figures
       Self-Portrait in Green is also a reckoning with family, with the narrator separately visiting both her mother and her father, neither of whom she is very close to. Her mother has had yet another child -- a girl who has, however, largely been taken out of her care -- while her father now lives in Africa, his latest of a long string of wives one who was a close friend and schoolmate of the narrator.
       Repeatedly there are flashes of someone or something, green or black, ominous not-quite-apparitions. Variations on dissatisfaction, up to outright misery, and even suicide haunt the narrative, too. Everywhere, there are women in green, a color not of life but of seemingly of what life can become.
       The narrator wondered already years earlier about her father's family:
Is it all this green that's undoing them ?
       And clearly she fears too becoming one of these 'women in green'. Like the rising Garonne river, the possibility seems close and real, with little that can be done to change what will come; power and control lie elsewhere.
       NDiaye's small novel is effective in its haunting visions, but feels somewhat prickly in its closely personal observations -- announcing itself as a self-portrait the story hits close to home, and NDiaye seems unable to push and prod too far. The ominous sense of uncertainty, well-conveyed by the rising river, works well, but NDiaye allows her women in green to remain elusive presences, her narrator not quite fully equipped or willing to face or confront them,

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 December 2014

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Self-Portrait in Green: Reviews: Other books by Marie NDiaye under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Marie NDiaye was born in 1967.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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