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Book Recs: My Life as a Godard Movie by Joanna Walsh
I loved this book and I think you will too.
I have a new favorite book genre, which might best be described as “short books by women writers about making and appreciating art, living life, and doing so while female.” My latest favorite in this genre is My Life as a Godard Movie by British author Joanna Walsh, from Transit Books. At fewer than 100 pages long, it is a book born from lockdown: trapped in her apartment during the early days of the global pandemic, Walsh dreams of escape—specifically, escape to Paris. But with real Paris “no longer an option,” she escapes instead into the cinematic Paris portrayed in the films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Organized by film title and a corresponding color (“La Chinoise—Red”, “Pierrot le Fou—Cyan”), Walsh contemplates gender, cinema, youth, style, and the necessary components of personal revolution.
“When I see Belmondo move on-screen [in Breathless] I’m reminded how men’s worlds and clothes are designed to fit their bodies, whilst women’s bodies have to fit their clothes and the worlds they find themselves in.
“Why buy a dress from Dior when there are great dresses in Tati?” Belmondo asks Seberg. Which reminds me of the man who asked me,
—“Why spend money on a dress when you could buy a ticket to Paris?”
—“But what would I wear when I got there?”
As it turns out, everything that happens in the next scene hinges on the dress. Seberg is noticed because of it, and what is noticed is that she’s beautiful. There is a ‘role’ in the world, a famous author tells her, for beautiful women wearing beautiful dresses. But only for them.
(How many things have I left undone because I was not ‘beautiful’ enough? How many things have I dared because I was dressed for it?)
I spoke with Walsh about My Life as a Godard Movie this past Tuesday at the American Library in Paris. Here is an excerpt in 3:AM Magazine.
The delivery throughout the book is poetic and economical, the tone urgent.
Have you ever felt saved by a work of art, a film, or a place?
“Did I ever tell you I’m still alive because I went to Paris? Went to Paris, never having been there, but having a Paris to go to? Unhappily married (two words to stand in for so much), unable to decide to leave my green square, I thought (two words to stand in for so much) of death. Instead of dying, I went to Paris. The Eurostar was new, my ticket, a supermarket offer. I got up at 4 am, told no one; messaged to say I’d left early for work, would stay late. From the Gare du Nord I took the metro to Saint-Michel. Above ground I walked—tracing Paris’s borders—west, then north, crossed the river, found the hill, walked without stopping for eight hours til I came back to Paris Nord where I took the train back to London. I did not even live in London, but three hours out: ten hours travel and eight hours walking: eighteen hours: a day, a day that saved my life.”
Joanna Walsh is a multidisciplinary writer, artist and arts activist. The author of eleven books, including Hotel, Vertigo, Worlds from the Word's End, Break*up, and Girl Online, she also writes for performance, visual art and digital narrative. My Life as a Godard Movie is perfect for fans of Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want To Know, Lauren Elkin’s No. 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus, and anyone who watched a Godard movie in their teens or twenties and tried to imitate its sartorial style.
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