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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.


BOOK REVIEW: Peach by Emma Glass

Friday, July 13, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Something has happened to Peach. Staggering around the town streets in the aftermath of an assault, Peach feels a trickle of blood down her legs, a lingering smell of her anonymous attacker on her skin. It hurts to walk, but she manages to make her way to her home, where she stumbles into another oddly nightmarish reality: Her parents can't seem to comprehend that anything has happened to their daughter.

The next morning, Peach tries to return to the routines of her ordinary life, going to classes, spending time with her boyfriend, Green, trying to find comfort in the thought of her upcoming departure for college. And yet, as Peach struggles through the next few days, she is stalked by the memories of her unacknowledged trauma. Sleeping is hard when she is haunted by the glimpses of that stranger's gaping mouth. Working is hard when her assailant's rancid smell still fills her nostrils. Eating is impossible when her stomach is swollen tight as a drum. Though she tries to close her eyes to what has happened, Peach at last begins to understand the drastic, gruesome action she must take.


My Thoughts:

An extraordinary, savage, and surreal novel by a young British debut author, Peach is quite unlike any novel I’ve read in a long time.

A young woman named Peach stumbles home, blood trickling down her leg, language shattering to pieces in her head: ‘Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hands against the wall. Rough red bricks ripping the wool. Ripping the skin. Rough red skin. Rough red head.’

There is a sense that whatever has happened to Peach has been so traumatic, so destructive, that her very sense of the world has been broken open and rendered inchoate.

She makes it home, and stitches herself closed. Normal life seems abnormal. Her parents are oblivious, self-obsessed, sex-fixated. All Peach’s perceptions seem preoccupied by thoughts of food. Her baby brother is jelly: ‘his jelly body jiggles.’ Her boyfriend Green is a tree: ‘He kisses my mouth and I taste twigs. His brown eyes take root in mine.’ Her teacher Mr Custard is, unsurprisingly, ‘yellow goop’. Her attacker is a sausage, and his lingering ‘smell of rotting pig meat’ overwhelms her.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Emma Glass said she wanted to create a ‘sensory experience’ by focusing on language rather than a conventional plot. In this she has succeeded. The staccato sentences, relentless repetition, and adroit word play create an intense, raw and visceral tone. Nothing and no-one seems real. Peach has staggered into a nightmarish and absurdist world. ‘Everything that was up is down. Gravity is gone.’

It is not an easy book to read, because of this intensity. I kept having to put the book down, to try and settle my stomach and my mind, only to pick it up again, troubled but riveted. Her stream-of-consciousness style reminds me of James Joyce, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison and Arundhati Roy. It is written in language cracked by violence and cruelty. As Emma Glass said herself, it is ‘the language of ordeal’.

A tour-de-force in experimental writing, Peach is bold, surprising, and unsettling. Not for the weak-stomached.


You might be interested in reading my review of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

I was lucky enough to interview Emma Glass this week, you can read it here.

Have you read Peach? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Friday, December 09, 2016




BLURB:

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.


They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.


Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.


MY THOUGHTS:

When I was in the UK, every bookshop had a window display with this gorgeous hardback novel by Sarah Perry. I had to buy it, and the story was just as lush and intricate and surprising as the cover. 


The setting is Essex in the 19th century, where superstition and science collide in a series of events that destabilise and transform the lives of all the characters. Cora Seagrave is a young widow who has been damaged by the cruelty of her dead husband and who has lost all faith. Her son is odd and withdrawn and difficult to understand, but she loves him and does her best for him. Her best friend is a hunchbacked surgeon who is secretly in love with her. Cora, however, is attracted to the local rector, a married man who believes in God. Throw in a mysterious serpent, strange and wondrous events, murderous intent and miracles, and you get this absolutely marvellous book. 


One of the best reads of the year for me. 


Love books set during Victorian times? You may also enjoy Sarah Water's AFFINITY or Tracey Chevalier's FALLING ANGELS  (two of my favourite books!)


I'd love to know what other books I should read set during the 19th century - please give me your recommendations!





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