The White Dress, by Nathalie Léger


Nathalie Léger, translated by Natasha Lehrer

Published on 31 March 2020

French booksellers’ award Prix Wepler 2018

‘She wanted to bring peace to countries that had known war. She said she thought she could do that simply by wearing a wedding dress. I wasn’t interested in the grace or foolishness of her intentions; what interested me was that she hoped this gesture would be enough to mend something that was so out of proportion with it – and that she did not make it. Can a white dress ever be enough to make amends for the world’s torments? Probably no more than words can ever be enough to do justice to a weeping mother.’ – Nathalie Léger

On 8 March 2008, the Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca undertook an unusual and symbolic journey: her aim was to promote the cause of peace by hitchhiking from Milan to Jerusalem, wearing a customized white wedding dress, and documenting the experience by video.

In telling the young woman’s story, which overwhelms her and inexorably draws her in, Nathalie Léger recounts the different stages of her research and strikes upon something fundamental within Bacca’s performance: the desire to remedy the unfathomable nature of violence and war. Through this intense examination of Bacca’s final work and of the often polarised public reaction to the role of women in art, Léger also compellingly addresses her own conflicted relationship with her elderly mother.

‘Nathalie Léger is a melancholy sentinel. From book to book she writes with a hunter’s instinct, questioning the motives of women who, through their oeuvre, transform their lives into a mystery. Each explores alienation and the female condition. In this fascinating account, she holds together the sacred and the profane.’ – ELLE (France)

‘More than just an exploration of a violent news story, The White Dress performs a subtle set of variations on the theme of remnants, of the ghosts that live within us.’ — Le Monde des livres

The White Dress inspects the imaginary frontier between art and life.’ — Libération

‘The White Dress shows Léger doing something new. Her melodious intertwining of another’s story with her own recalls her other works, but this is an altogether darker, altogether more unashamedly melancholic exploration of narrative (…) the narrator of The White Dress is no longer so tentative. For Léger’s message seems to be that to immerse oneself in other people’s stories, whether out of pity or simple escapism, is only to find a projection of one’s own life.’ — The Arts Desk

Read an excerpt on Granta.

Available for purchase here
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