The Millions

Obsession Is Universal

Is there art without obsession? Obsession is endemic to the human condition.  It drives creation like sunlight nourishes plants. If artists are observers of human follies and failings, then depicting obsession comes with the terrain.  Three recently translated novels, ostensibly about music and musicians, use language to illustrate obsession.

Blue Self-Portrait, by Noémi Lefebvre, translated from French by Sophie Lewis, is narrated by a young woman flying between Berlin and Paris.  She sits with her sister, a violinist, and fixates on her love interest, a pianist-composer.  Lefebvre transmits the narrator’s obsessive nature through sentences that are pages long with scant punctuation, and cascades of spiraling, stream-of-consciousness thoughts.  The pianist-love interest spurs a mental whirligig through German intellectual and cultural history; Nazism; music, art, and language; and sex and relationships, including the narrator’s failed marriage and her overbearing former mother-in-law.  All this, in fewer than 150 pages.

is inventive and funny—as well as clever—cycling at breakneck speed (synonymous with “”) to , who convened Wannsee and was the only senior Nazi official to be assassinated.  But segueing from there to the narrator’s pianist love requires a creative twist—

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