by Sybille Bedford, with an introduction by the author
Could you call Sybille Bedford a precursor of Knausgaard and Chris Kraus? Like them, she certainly did set the ambiguous and inescapable stuff of her own life at the center of her fiction, and in Jigsaw, her fourth and final novel, she does it with particular deliberation and artistry. “What I had in mind,” she was later to say, “was to build a novel out of the events and people who had made me up...Truth here was an artistic, not moral requirement, [and] it involved...writing about myself, my feelings, my actions.” And so she assembled the puzzling pieces of her singular past into a picture of her “unsentimental education.” We learn of her childhood living alone with her father, “a stranded man of the world” living a life of “ungenteel poverty in quite grand surroundings,” a chateau, that is, deep in the German countryside, with wine but little else for him and his young daughter to hold body and soul together. We learn of her return to Italy and her mother, “the one character [in the book] I wished to keep minor knowing all along that it could not be done,” and the dark secret consuming her mother’s life. Finally, she tells us how she lived with and learned from Aldous and Maria Huxley on the French Riviera, developing the sense of purpose and courage that made her the great writer she would become.
Her writing is like the conversation of a clever, worldly friend who we wish would come by more often.
—Joan Acocella, The New Yorker
To read Bedford’s work is to bask in the presence of someone at once German, French, and English—at the very least—who knew these countries from deep within herself and was able to enjoy their distinctions without ever belittling or simplifying them. If the word cosmopolitan had been coined with a particular literary figure in mind, it might have been Sybille Bedford.
—Sylvia Brownrigg, The Paris Review
There will always be people for whom her books are part of their mind’s life, and people who are discovering her for the first time as if entering a lighted room.
—Victoria Glendinning, The Guardian