Translated by Stuart Bell:
The Softest Sleep
‘Her pearls are still floating free, hanging on a memory of skin. I sit down on the floor, eyes fixed on the clock’s golden hands. My grandmother has gone quiet. In this silence, a lost world, I know. In this silence, Olga, Freiga, Meyer, and Lev are no longer singing. In this silence, I hear The Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, rising up.’
As the year’s end approaches, three generations of women travel together to Nice: grandmother, mother and daughter. One was exiled from her home country as a child and has spent her life fleeing persecution; one is living with final-stage cancer and has many questions to ask of the time remaining; one is attempting to negotiate this loss in process, and in so doing, find self-expression as an artist. Over the days and nights to follow, in dimly-lit rooms by the sea, stories tell of the long-dead and the now-dying, ghosts dance in the round in the darkness to the tune of an ancient lullaby.
Rendered in a style recalling the writings of Marguerite Duras and Annie Ernaux, The Softest Sleep lays bare the rawness of grief, both individual and collective, and the tenderness and tragedy at the heart of maternal-filial relations. With an introduction by Professor Emma Wilson, this is the first-ever translation into English of Anne Goscinny’s deft and moving work of autofiction, recalling the final days of her mother’s life and charting the birth of an artist.
ANNE GOSCINNY is a French novelist and literary critic. She is the author of ‘Le Bureau des solitudes’ (2002), ‘Le Voleur de mère’ (2004), ‘Le Père éternel’ (2006, winner of La Wizo Prize), ‘Le Banc des soupirs’ (2011), ‘Le bruit des clefs’ (2012), ‘Le sommeil le plus doux’ (2016) and ‘Sous tes baisers’ (2017).
STUART BELL is a literary translator. He studied French and German at the University of Cambridge and then as a postgraduate at Birkbeck, University of London. He has previously published the first translation into English of Pascal Bruckner’s ‘They Stole Our Beauty’ (2019) and is currently working on translating contemporary French experimental poetry.
EMMA WILSON is Professor of French Literature and the Visual Arts at the University of Cambridge and is currently researching on contemporary French women writers and filmmakers. Her books include ‘Love, Mortality and the Moving Image’ (2012) and ‘The Reclining Nude: Agnès Varda, Catherine Breillat, and Nan Goldin’ (2019).