Consent, by Vanessa Springora

The devastating and powerful memoir from a French publisher who was abused by a famous writer from the age of thirteen

‘Dazzling….Lehrer… navigates these shifting registers with subtlety and insight.’ Parul Seghal, New York Times

‘A gut-punch of a memoir with prose that cuts like a knife’ Kate Elizabeth Russell, author of My Dark Vanessa

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of France’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of an influential man. At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Springora, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story.

Consent is the story of her stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Springora’s painstaking memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man.

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales, French history and the author’s personal life, Consent offers intimate insights into the meaning of love and consent, the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives.

Harper Collins, 2021

France, literature and the age of consent

New year, new scandal.

Over the last few weeks, the Parisian literary elite has been contorting itself into elaborate knots over the behaviour of Gabriel Matzneff, the 83-year-old prizewinning novelist, essayist and predator. In Le Consentement, an explosive new memoir, Vanessa Springora describes her relationship with Matzneff, which began in the mid-1980s, when she was 14 and he in his 50s.

My article in the Guardian about Gabriel Matzneff 

Memories of Low Tide


‘The swimmer of the Grand Canal revelled in the water, not a care in the world, euphoric with delight. Whatever might exist around, below, above her, she gave no thought to it.’


“Gorgeous….a kind of bottled perfection,” Catherine Taylor, Financial Times

Written in impossibly beautiful prose, Thomas explores the connection she feels to her childhood home on the Atlantic coast of France and the obsession with the sea she inherited from her mother. Complicated and often inscrutable, Thomas’ mother was fettered by domestic life, but was once the kind of girl who dived into the moat at the Palace of Versailles.

Memories of Low Tide is Chantal Thomas’ search for that effervescent girl, the quest to understand her, and an exploration of the ways she truly is her mother’s daughter.


Published by Pushkin Press, 2019

Memories of Low Tide, by Chantal Thomas

Memories of Low Tide

Chantal Thomas

Can a daughter ever really understand her mother?

Chantal Thomas grew up in a seaside town on the Atlantic coast of France, inheriting from her mother an obsession with the sea, and for swimming. In this tender and eloquent memoir she seeks to understand her quixotic, often inscrutable mother – a woman who was luminous in the water and once dived into the moat of the Palace of Versailles, but became fettered by marriage and domestic life.

Thomas combs the beaches of her childhood for memories, recalling the sensory pleasures of the sands, the first sharp touch of cold water, and discovering the multitude of ways in which she is still her mother’s daughter.


Written in impossibly beautiful prose, Thomas explores the connection she feels to her childhood home on the Atlantic coast of France and the obsession with the sea she inherited from her mother. Complicated and often inscrutable, Thomas’ mother was fettered by domestic life, but was once the kind of girl who dived into the moat at the Palace of Versailles.

Memories of Low Tide is Chantal Thomas’ search for that effervescent girl, the quest to understand her, and an exploration of the ways she truly is her mother’s daughter.


Dive in and read an extract here.

Forgotten Soldier

Lady Irene Hatter was born in Amsterdam, a few days after the creation of the state of Israel. Like many Jews of her generation, the Holocaust cast a shadow over the family. As a child she overheard muttered comments, whispered rumours, but that was all – it was not until 35 years after her father’s death in 1980 that she decided to set out to find out the truth about who he really was.

Forgotten Soldier, a new documentary narrated by Zoe Wanamaker and Henry Goodman, follows Lady Irene as she embarks on an investigation into Sally Noach’s wartime past. At the outset she acknowledges that she knew little about his life during the war; she recalls only a single passing encounter as a teenager with a man who came up to them in the street in Amsterdam and told her father that he had saved his life.

With a film crew in tow, Lady Irene set off to retrace her father’s wartime experiences. Sally Noach was born in the provincial Dutch city of Zutphen in 1909, into a large Jewish family. Even as a child he was something of a firebrand, and he left school aged 12 after an argument with a teacher, finding work as a butcher’s boy and a waiter before following his father into the carpet business. Not unusually for Jews at the time, the family tended not to stay in one place for long, and in May 1940, on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Belgium, they were living in Brussels. Sally was the only member of the family who had the instinct to flee; he took the train to Lyon, where he managed, with the help of some contacts in the carpet business, to set himself up as a trader. After the war he discovered that 108 members of his close family had not survived the war, including his parents, who were killed in Auschwitz.

Read more here

Sally Noach Forgotten Soldier

The Audin Affair

EARLY IN 2017, barely a year after he launched his whistle-stop campaign for the presidency, Emmanuel Macron seriously ruffled feathers in France when he told Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika that the “crimes and acts of barbarism” committed by the French army during the Algerian war of independence would today be considered “crimes against humanity”.

After fierce criticism from the right (another candidate for the presidency, the right-wing Francois Fillon, condemned what he called a “hatred of our history” and the “perpetual repentance that is unworthy of a candidate for the presidency of the republic”), Macron dropped the rhetoric for the duration of his campaign, and the whole first year of his presidency.

Interview for the French-American translation prize

This is a nice interview published by the French American Foundation. ( and picked up, I was delighted to see, by the Paris Review (scroll right down to the end).



French-American Foundation: Tell me about your career and what led you to translation.


Natasha Lehrer: I’ve been a literary critic and editor for years. I sort of fell into translation relatively recently – in fact Suite for Barbara Loden was the first book I translated. I studied for an MPhil in Comparative Literature at the Université de Paris VIII, and became increasingly interested in translation and its centrality in promoting trans-national conversation. Things are happening across the world today that we thought we had banished from history. Devastating wars in Syria and Yemen. The refugee crisis. Nationalisms are creeping across Europe. Russia. Trump. Brexit. Borders are closing. Minds are closing. Reading literature from other languages and cultures is a crucial way of keeping our minds open to the other, of remembering how much value there is in difference. Translation is obviously crucial to understanding more about other cultures, but just as importantly it forces us to confront our own assumptions and prejudices.

Cécile Menon: As a student at La Sorbonne Nouvelle, half a lifetime ago, I translated excerpts of A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye as part of my degree dissertation. This was my first stab at translating a text suffused with feminist issues and literary references. What led me to translation, primarily, was my love of language and of literature. And a taste for things difficult, and things playful. I moved to London after my degree, and slept on a friend’s floor in her tiny bedroom for a few weeks. Among dozens of jobs over the years I worked for a literary agent, then for John Calder, then as a web publisher and editor for Clive James. Some literary translation happened along the way: a radio play by Howard Barker, poems by Jamie McKendrick and by Christian Wiman, some academic essays…

Why did you decide to translate Suite for Barbara Loden?   

CM: The tone of the text and its mysterious, changing texture is what attracted me, as much as the subject matter. It had won an important literary prize in France, one awarded by readers across the country and somehow that didn’t seem to mesh with the kind of book it is, a bit highbrow. I was intrigued by this duality. At first I just wanted to translate an excerpt to pitch to UK publishers. But to cut a long story short I ended up setting up Les Fugitives to publish the book. I soon realized I couldn’t do it justice in English by myself and as was aware of the pitfalls of self‐publishing I hired Natasha. But I didn’t have enough money to pay her a whole fee so I asked if she would share the translation with me and thankfully she was amenable to that. But really, the more I worked on the book the more I related to Wanda. Apart from everything else I also was a country bumpkin. My father was the village blacksmith – coal and soot are materials I have a deep affinity with!

What were some challenges that you encountered while translating the book? 

NL: There is something very deceptive in the limpidity of Léger’s prose. It’s extraordinarily precise. She switches registers very rapidly, like jump cuts in a movie. The elegance and meticulousness of her language has a kind of rigor that is perhaps harder to translate than more obviously ornate language.
How do you approach the task of translating? What does your process look like?

NL: I work in multiple drafts. I do the first draft quite quickly, just to get something fairly literal down on the page. Then I work through it first with the French alongside, then without it, then I turn back to the French and go through it sentence by sentence, honing it. I might go through the text like this ten times or more – until it feels right. I do ceramics for pleasure, and I think there is something similar in the process: you work on a piece of pottery, slowly, carefully, going over and over it, until at a certain point you feel that it’s right, it’s ready, it’s alive. And I have the same feeling with translation – you work on it until there’s a point where you can feel that it’s ready to go out into the world. It lives.

CM: I go into a trance. Well, not really. I will read the whole book first; I don’t make any notes.

Then I just start… translating! I plod along trying to be alert to patterns emerging, correspondences, resonances, oddities. I get obsessed with the tone(s). I try to steer clear of dictionaries for as long as I possibly can. I try to trust my instinct. I go back and forth, back and forth, revise and refine again and again, nothing unusual in that. But I have found that working very hard on the first quarter of the book first, yields some very useful results for what follows; a sense of direction for the translation style appears. But in all honesty I’m not very experienced. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, actually. I kind of believe that with every new book you’re a beginner.

What does the Translation Prize mean to you and how do you think it benefits translation and the literary world? 

CM: A Translation Prize plays two equally important roles: obviously it brings public recognition, an endorsement by peers or readers, which is great for a translator’s career. It also throws a spotlight on a literary work of outstanding merit or of general interest or both, as much as on the quality of the translation itself. When it gives rise to discussions, the conversations that take place go beyond debating the quality of the translation and its relationship with the original; the nature of translation, the value of language and of communication come to the fore, as well as the matters expressed in the work by a foreign authors. It can challenge and widen people’s point of view, surely something to value.

Who are some of your favorite authors to read? And to translate? 

NL: I read so much and so many different kinds of books that I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. I’m reading and loving Zadie Smith’s Swing Time at the moment. I recently translated Victor Segalen’s Journey to the Land of the Real. Segalen is unaccountably little read nowadays and I hope that this gem of a book might change that. It’s exquisite writing that’s bursting with ideas, and so fresh that it’s hard to believe it was written a century ago.

What is the most difficult book that you have translated? What made it difficult and why?

NL: It’s tempting to answer that the most difficult book that I’ve ever translated is always the one I’m working on at the moment, since the knotty problems have yet to be resolved. But having just finished translating some hitherto unpublished writing by Georges Bataille, I have to say that in terms of difficulty, Bataille takes the biscuit.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring translator, what would it be? 

CM: Find an author you feel a strong affinity with. Translate for fun. Be patient with yourself and with your work. Choose your counsel with care. Take long walks and time to not work; to forget about the work. A lot happens when you’re not working. It’s a lazy profession, really. Apart from the hours, days and weeks, months that translators spend chained to our desk.

What current projects are you working on? 

NL: I’m just finishing off a translation of Robert Desnos’s novella New Hebrides, or The Penalties of Hell, a work of high-surrealism that’s been a lot of fun to translate. I’m looking forward to starting work on L’Exposition, another brilliant book by Nathalie Léger, about the Countess of Castiglione, a mistress of Napoleon III and the most photographed woman of her era. It’s a dizzying exploration of the female gaze, of power play and transgression within the straitjacketed limitations of 19th century female identity.

CM: I’m developing Les Fugitives, currently working on the publicity campaign for the debut novel

Blue Self-­‐Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre, translated by Sophie Lewis; and on completing Translation as Transhumance, by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz, and edited by Natasha Lehrer and myself. It’s also being published in the US by the Feminist Press later this year. I’m hoping to be able at some point this year to translate an excerpt of Vertigo by Joanna Walsh. And of course I’m preparing for new titles next year, L’exposition by Nathalie Léger, and a couple of others.




About Natasha Lehrer

Natasha Lehrer is literary editor of the Jewish Quarterly and was one of the judges for the 2017 JQ-Wingate Prize. She read English at Oxford University and has an MPhil in Comparative Literature from the Université de Paris VIII. She writes long form journalism and literary criticism for the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, Haaretz, and Fantastic Man, amongst others, and was awarded a Rockower prize for journalism in 2016. Her translations have appeared in The Paris Review and 3am magazine. Her most recent translation is Journey to the Land of the Real, by Victor Segalen, published by Atlas Press in 2016. With her co-translator Cécile Menon she won the 2016 Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize for Suite for Barbara Loden, by Nathalie Léger. She lives in Paris.


About Cécile Menon

Cécile Menon is a translator between French and English, and a driving force behind Les Fugitives. Further to a Maîtrise in English literature from the Institut du Monde Anglophone at La Sorbonne Nouvelle she spent several years in England working in theatre and book-publishing in London before undertaking postgraduate studies on the work of Robert Pinget at Birkbeck College, University of London and the University of Westminster. She has been a publisher and consultant for the web site of Clive James. Her published translations include a theatre play by Howard Barker, poems by Jamie McKendrick and Christian Wiman, a book on positive psychology and numerous articles on contemporary architecture.

French-American Foundation 2017 Prize for Translation/Albertine Prize 2017

More amazing news. Suite for Barbara Loden is one of five fiction finalists for the 2017 French American Foundation Prize for translation. The winner will be announced on June 8th in New York.

It’s also shortlisted for the newly-launched Albertine Prize, which is decided by the reading public. Voters (who must be in the US) can choose one or more of the ten shortlisted books here.

Judging the JQ/Wingate Prize

I was very  fortunate indeed to have been invited to judge the 2017 Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Prize. It was a wholly enjoyable and incredibly stimulating experience. The marvelously wide rubric of the 40-year-old prize is “to recognize writing by Jewish and non-Jewish writers that explores themes of Jewish concern in any of its myriad possible forms either explicitly or implicitly.”

As I and my fellow judges – chair of the judges Bryan Cheyette, novelist Joanna Kavenna and playwright Amy Rosenthal – read the many submitted books dealing in an impressive variety of ways with the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, the fate of refugees refused asylum and mass warfare and its aftermath, we reflected time and again on how history refuses to stay neatly in the past.


With Philippe Sands – who shared the prize with Ayelet Gundar-Goshen – and Amy Rosenthal at the award evening.

This is a piece I wrote for Haaretz describing how we came to choose the very worthy winners of the prize.