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BOOK REVIEW: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Friday, August 10, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

A mesmerising literary novel about a lost man in search of connection - a meditation on love, art and commitment, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest art events in modern history, Marina Abramovic's The Artist is Present.

Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.

This dazzlingly original novel asks beguiling questions about the nature of art, life and love and finds a way to answer them.

My Thoughts:

I love art in all its forms, and had heard so many wonderful reviews of The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (which won the 2017 Stella Prize) that I had been wanting to read it for a long time.

However, I did not buy the book until after I interviewed Heather Rose for Word of Mouth TV earlier this year and was fascinated by the story of the book’s inspiration and long genesis.

The story is centred on the true-life art performance ‘The Artist is Present’, in which Serbian-born artist Marina Abramovic sits silently on a chair at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York for seventy-five days, without speaking or moving or showing any outward sign that she is alive. People visiting the museum have the chance to sit with her and look into her eyes, but are not permitted to speak or act in any way.

This act of silent connection proves extraordinarily moving and inspiring for many thousands of people, who queue up day after day to watch and participate. In all, 1,500 people would sit with Marina Abramovic and more than 850,000 people watched, some returning day after day after day (including Heather Rose who sat with the artist four times).

In the world of Heather Rose’s extraordinary, luminous novel, we met several imaginary people who are also drawn to watch. Among them are Arky Levin, a film composer separated from his wife, and Jane Miller, a widow who had once been a teacher. Both are struggling with loss and grief; both are drawn to Marina Abramovic’s installation for reasons they do not fully understand. They meet when Jane, annoyed by a stranger’s patronising remarks about modern art, turns to Arky and says, ‘I think art saves people all the time.’

I think art saves people too. I think it has saved me more than once. And so this is a book that resonated with me on so many levels.

Arky and Jane do not fall in love. Their lives touch only briefly, yet both are changed by their encounter, with each other and with ‘The Artist is Present’ installation. So too are the lives of others in the crowd, some of whome we meet only briefly. Without moving, without speaking, Marina Abramovic is an agent of revelation and transformation.

‘It is her metier to dance on the edge of madness, to vault over pain into the solace of disintegration,’ Heather Rose writes of her.

Other voices who speak in this beautiful and beguiling novel are the ghost of Marina Abramovic’s mother, a fierce and unrelenting woman who had been a Serbian war hero, and an unnamed narrator who acts as a muse to Arky and other struggling artists.

‘Pain is the stone that art sharpens itself on time after time,’ the muse says at one point.

These elements of magical realism are interwoven so delicately and surely that they do not disrupt the narrative flow at all, but add intensity and pathos as well as a sense of wonder and amazement at the extraordinary way art and creativity can shape and succour the human psyche.

After I finished The Museum of Modern Art, I too was fascinated by Marina Abramovic and read or watched numerous articles and documentaries about her. I love a book that drives me to learn more.

It took Heather rose more than eleven years to craft this exquisitely written novel, a testament to the depth of her obsession and the dediction to her craft. It is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. Quite possibly, one of the best book I’ve read ever.

If you like books about art, check out my review of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith.

I was lucky enough to interview Heather Rose for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

INTERVIEW: Heather Rose

Friday, August 10, 2018


Today I welcome Heather Rose, author of The Museum of Modern Love, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Tasmania and I live by the sea just two kilometres from my old family home. Mind you, I went around the world to arrive back here. I love beach walks, painting, meditating, reading, swimming, making cakes, time with my children and teaching writing. I also love solitude, kindness, sunshine and friendship.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
At the National Gallery of Victoria staring at a photograph.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Not at all.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Yes. It’s curious how they show up with helpful metaphors at times.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
There are always astonishing serendipitous discoveries and that’s how I know I’m on the right path with a novel. I think of writing as psychic orienteering. I have to trust my instincts and the path appears. The Museum of Modern Love took eleven years – and the discoveries kept unfolding.

Where do you write, and when?
I write at home in a room overlooking the sea. I like to get to my desk at 9am and not finish until at least 3pm. But sometimes, if the day got away, I’ll start around 7pm and work til 1am. I try to write every day – even weekends. I don’t always succeed, but novels are long and even a little every day really helps.

What is your favourite part of writing?
The writing. Finding myself immersed in the characters and the plot for hours on end. Bliss. When I emerge it’s as if I have spent the day visiting friends in other places. It’s the ultimate time travel.

What do you do when you get blocked?
Make tea. Go for a walk. Meet a friend. Go to a movie. Read a great book. Have a nap. Take a break for a few days, or even a week. Work on something else. The next bit always comes. It’s just a matter of being patient and listening.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I meditate every day. I read a lot. I love movies. I walk and swim too. I love escaping into nature on a beach or in a forest. (It’s easy in Tasmania!) I also procrasti-bake. Cooking is a great way for me to nurture ideas.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

A pot of tea, a jug of water, toast and marmalade and I’m away. Lighting a candle is also helpful on the long nights.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Such a painful question. So many favourites. Here’s 12 with apologies to all the omissions: Virginia Woolf. Haruki Murakami. Kazuo Ishiguro. Elizabeth Gilbert. Helen Garner. Elizabeth Strout. Cormac McCarthy. Toni Morrison. Edith Wharton. George R.R. Martin. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. George Eliot.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Writing that touches my heart, transports me to other worlds and awakens me to new ideas.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Read excellent writing. Carry a notebook and pen. Write something every day. Repeat.

What are you working on now?
Novel #8. And a couple of non-fiction projects.

You can read my review of The Museum of Modern Love here.

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