She describes a first meeting with Picasso in which Maar, wearing black gloves embroidered with small flowers, repeatedly dropped a knife between her fingers until her blood flowed: “Picasso was overwhelmed, enthralled. A psychiatrist might have been wary of this form of self-mutilation.” Benkemoun should have been warier, too – and more curious. Nor is she much interested in Maar’s photography. Her book is glitteringly anecdotal. It scores as artistic pickpocketing – unauthorised rummaging. But she misses altogether the melancholy fact that what her husband now possesses is the address book of a recluse, the contacts of a woman who lost touch with the world.
Benkemoun is very handy with the exclamation mark. ‘Who still remembers Louis Chavance?’ she writes. ‘Film buffs, maybe!’ Dora Maar was not simply ‘no feminist’, she was ‘certainly no feminist!’ And, in case we were worried, at one point the author assures us, in the context of an interview with an auctioneer, ‘I told him that my father had also run an auction house. And I wasn’t even lying!’ The above gives a flavour of her style. The book has been translated from French, but I checked the original and exclamation marks abound there too. I’d have had more patience had the author of the book not been a writer by profession.