The stream of consciousness of an unnamed, utterly obsessive woman on an airplane.
The narrator of Lefebvre’s first novel to appear in English has no name, no stated occupation. When this slim book begins, her plane is taking off from Berlin; it ends as she lands in Paris, her home. In between is a kind of cyclone of her thoughts, which circle obsessively around certain themes, certain images, without ever reaching any kind of consistency, let alone resolution. At the center of her thoughts is a man she refers to as “the pianist” or “the composer,” whom she saw in Berlin when, to her great regret and self-loathing, she talked too much. Other points of obsession include: the narrator’s education; her habit of not caring, a cardinal characteristic; the idea of collective happiness; the letters of Thomas Mann and Theodor W. Adorno; and the self-portrait by Arnold Schoenberg, in which the composer appears in blue, with upturned nostrils and only one ear, which gives the book its title. It’s difficult to say how all of this ties together or whether, indeed, it does. It’s difficult to say what has actually happened and what the narrator has only imagined happening. It’s easy, too easy, to refer to all this as stream of consciousness, though there doesn’t seem to be a better phrase. There is pleasure to be found in the elegance and sophistication of the narrator’s thoughts. There is humor as well as pathos in her self-doubt. But her endless obsessing becomes tiresome in the same way it does in any friend, acquaintance, or person you’ve been seated beside on an airplane. You long for a breath of air, for some calm. Lefebvre fits a lot into her slim little novel—but she never achieves calm.
Witty, smart, and occasionally fascinating, Lefebvre’s novel becomes tiresome by the end.