... an interior monologue that touches on many matters and, as with any complex individual, it is made up of many voices. This could be a stumbling block for many American readers, who prefer 'tell all' biographies with an omniscient narrator, but that would be their loss. In another contrast to those doorstop monstrosities, which do have their place, Frémon’s text is less than 100 pages ... a synthesis Frémon’s talents as an art critic, novelist, and artist’s friend: this combination is what makes Now, Now Louison special and well worth an hour or two of your time. It occurred to me while reading this book—and I was drawn in immediately—that Frémon would likely understand aspects of her French childhood that an American writer might not quite grasp ... An art critic who uses fiction to expose the limitations of the interpretation and understanding of art, all done with humor and insight—now that’s not something you encounter every day. And, when I say that Frémon is an art critic, I, of course, know that he is far more than that.
Cannot be considered anything other than a triumph. Now, Now, Louison reads like a tapestry of Bourgeois’ mind, with Frémon’s deep personal relationship with the artist enabling him to effortlessly convey an intimate knowledge of not just her life but the flow of her thoughts and ideas as well ... a touching tribute from one friend to another, a much more personal form than biography could ever capture, and a truly innovative piece of work. Instead of having Bourgeois’ early life told to us we experience it through it her eyes and senses, being transported to early and mid-twentieth century Paris and New York, and immersed in her thoughts, internal monologues, and personal life. Due to his closeness to Bourgeois, Frémon as Bourgeois is more than believable, and the unusual nature of the prose creates the kind of alchemy in the imagination that is only provoked by a high level of invention ... Frémon’s writing, excellently translated by Swensen, creates a nuanced and balanced tone that reflects the depth of Bourgeois’ personality.
The author’s intimate knowledge of Bourgeois’s personal relationships, life experiences, and outspoken views on a host of subjects are in evidence throughout Now, Now, Louison ... With impressive versatility, Cole Swensen negotiates the multiplicity of voices, while also maintaining the distinctive spoken quality Frémon achieves in his text ... arguably Swensen’s greatest accomplishments in Now, Now, Louison stem from her complex engagement with the relationship between fidelity and translation ... Beyond his technical achievement, Frémon dives into his own memory to create an impressive fictional portrait, creatively responding to both Bourgeois’s life and art. This portrait stylishly captures Bourgeois’s voice but of course only forms part of it ... It is the forceful, irascible, often funny nature of this voice that accounts for so much of the text’s joy, lifting it beyond its potential to be seen as exploitative. Taking as its lead both Bourgeois’s voice and creative practice, this is a book that eschews excessive biographical detail to convey something closer to life, 'a kind of portrait' captured through the combined artistry of writer and translator.
Elegantly translated by Cole Swensen, Now, Now, Louison portrays a woman whose mind never rests, whose capacious memory serves as a bottomless source of artistic inspiration ... Frémon brings Bourgeois' art to light through her keen observations on life. Frémon's portrait is convincing; artists of Bourgeois' intensity do not separate life from art ... The best way to read Now, Now, Louison is to surrender to it, to observe in tandem with Louise, to feel alongside her. Individually, the vignettes may not always be decipherable, but collectively they portray a woman of great complexity and imagination. Her life is her art, and vice versa ... Mixing media is a challenge; translating visual art into words impossible by definition. But with Now, Now, Louison, Jean Frémon delivers a special pleasure — he invites us into Louise Bourgeois' head as she creates. In so doing, Frémon opens up our understanding of both the artist and her art.
...a brief, nimble portrait of Bourgeois by Jean Frémon, a French gallerist and writer and Bourgeois’s friend of 30 years—could never be mistaken for monumental ... By composing in...expressive, loosely connected observations, Mr. Frémon makes it clear that he’s not trying to offer the last word on his subject. This is his book’s greatest strength. Now, Now, Louison doesn’t aim to encapsulate Bourgeois’s life but at its best evokes a plainspoken, unpretentious side of her, and it does so with a clarity that has eluded many of its heavily footnoted predecessors. The effect, somehow, is both to bring her down to earth and to make her more mysterious ... This is, in other words, one of the rare books that actually benefits from being written in the second person. Throughout the work, the narrator sustains the convincing impression that he is addressing a troubled, ferociously observant woman fixated on events that occurred so long ago they almost seem to have happened to someone else ... That Bourgeois’s life and career were largely the products of a traumatic upbringing is a statement that will shock no art historian. Still, one wonders if Mr. Frémon hasn’t ignored some equally essential parts of her character by foregrounding her childhood ... Mr. Frémon barely touches on Bourgeois’s rise to fame ... Mr. Frémon writes eloquently about Bourgeois the daughter, the wife, the mother, the artist and the mourner, but his protagonist feels frustratingly passive and fragile at times because she lacks one crucial piece: Bourgeois the celebrity.
This dismal view of my gender pervades the novel, and in all objectivity, I’d say it is a flaw. Bourgeois had better men in her life, most especially her husband, Robert Goldwater, a distinguished art scholar, faithful lover and good father. Yet neither he nor the children — three sons — get nearly as much attention as the monstrous Papa ... The novel lacks a conventional climax, to be sure, but it hits a high point of another kind, a spiritual affirmation as well as an aesthetic manifesto, when Bourgeois affirms her core principles ... As Bourgeois pores over the junk from nearly a century ago, she plucks from it a new lease on her own life.
In Now, Now, Louison, the artist Louise Bourgeois’s friend Jean Frémon has compiled a solitary, meandering monologue ... a sensitive portrait of a woman whose struggle for self-definition came to drive her artistic practice.
... [a] perfectly pitched medley of fact and fiction ... It is this distinctive voice that Cole Swensen’s whimsical translation emulates, leaving the occasional phrase untouched, all the better to get inside the head of someone living between two worlds.
The book makes fast work of closing the second-person doors which might lead to pedantic rhetoric, a story which might exclude the reader, or a story which might feel too precious. Precious, this book is not; the 'you' speaks with a rancor and confidence which we have Swensen to thank for in the English translation, which glitters with humor ... In a poorly written book, a man writing from a woman’s perspective would be something to be upset about perhaps on Twitter. But this book, and its translation, are both so exquisitely done, exceedingly so. I am not indignant, I am not mad. I am happy for the questions this book raises. Its rejection of the traditional biography structure reflects the messy complexities of nonfiction writing in translation, and for that, I really like this very small book.
... isn’t so much 'about' French-American artist Louise Bourgeois — her life or her work — as an attempt to channel the artist on the page ... [Frémon's] performance of Bourgeois’s voice is sometimes uncomfortable ... a lively English translation by Cole Swensen is fun, compulsive reading. A novel with no plot and little story, it feels part of a French experimental tradition, though that makes it sound too airless and intellectual for what is a strange, exuberant tale told via stream of consciousness ... as a character, Bourgeois remains more a device than an inhabited woman who was earthy, psychologically shattered in some ways, but a shattering artistic powerhouse. This Bourgeois lacks depth, will, flesh, and even desire. She’s the author’s puppet and even when charming, it’s off-putting ... Frémon’s book is a charming frolic. But for Bourgeois and her formidable voice, look to her art.