If eroticism is an antidote to life, poet Sarah Bernstein explores the pheromones of Fréhel (Marguerite Boulc’h), a Parisian singer born into poverty, as she grapples with depression and addiction. Now Comes the Lightning chronicles her career, which spanned both World Wars and the arrival of cinema, and questions celebrity and performance.
With elements of sensuality, tragedy and the erotic, Bernstein’s poetics sing from the page. Whether Fréhel falls asleep to “the hiss of champagne,” or “imagines being free to go somewhere herself,” it is within self-reflection, and even self-sabotage, readers become aware of the undercurrents swirling around her.
Depicted through a repertoire of songs, the poet exposes the essence of the singer’s struggle, how performance is a state of contrasts, a question of existence. Bernstein writes: “She needs the stage, to be looked at, but they look at each part and do not see the whole.”