26 February 2021

‘We wait, we watch.’: an extract from Marie NDiaye’s Self Portrait in Green

Posted by Marie NDiaye

Self Portrait in Green is a startling novella of obsession and paranoia by the multi-award-winning French writer Marie NDiaye. Written in diary entries, the lyrical prose winds its way around the narrator’s twin obsessions: the Garonne river, and the mysterious woman in green. This new edition from Influx Press, translated by Jordan Stump, is our Book of the Week – order your copy here.

December 2003 – Evening has come, and the Garonne is rising hour after hour in the dark.

We all know the river can rise nine metres above its banks before it overflows, thanks to the levees surrounding the village.

That much we know. 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. What we don’t know this evening is what’s coming tonight, or tomorrow – if, like last time, ten months ago, the water will stop at the top of the levees, or, as it did twenty-two years ago, spill over, submerge the streets, invade the ground floor of the houses, sometimes the second floor, sometimes the whole house.

We can only wait and watch. Once the level nears eight and a half metres, we’ll be told to park our various vehicles on the plateau, just outside the next village. That hasn’t happened yet.

We can only keep waiting and watching. No sign, for the moment, of the long, slow column of trucks, cars, tractors, campers, and combines rolling through the night, crossing the canal, making for a place the Garonne will never reach.

We wait, we watch. The object of our vigilance is not some Old Man, it’s not le Mississippi, it’s not le Danube or le Rhône; no one here doubts for a moment that laGaronne’s essence is feminine. She’s brown tonight, heavy, almost bulging.

Self Portrait in Green is published by Influx Press, priced £9.99. Order your copy here.

Books mentioned in this blog post