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An Eggshell of a Promise,
This review is from: Asunder (Hardcover)
Chloe Aridjis is a Scheherazade!
After a leisurely beginning, her polished prose kept me reading. Every time I was tempted to put the book down, and at times I was sorely tempted, a beguiling phrase containing the thin uneasy promise of a presumably sombre outcome would catch my eye, and I would find myself reading another twenty pages, and then I'd go through the entire process again.
The slow-moving and yet mesmeric pace of the novel stems from the occupational voyeurism of the central characters, who are museum guards--one at London's National Gallery and the other at Tate Britain--those unobtrusive uniformed figures who lurk on the periphery as the public gravitates to the centre, peering at the masterpieces (My own encounter with one of these 'phantoms' occurred at the Accademia in Venice, when I leaned in a fraction-of-an-inch too close to scrutinise Giorgione's brush strokes in -Col Tempo-, the portrait of the ravages of time on a once-beautiful woman).
The isolation of the onlooker when confronted by the evanescent degeneration of the past is fundamental to Chloe Aridjis' narrative. I am, however, uncertain how I feel about her protagonist, Marie, with her passion for populating eggshell miniatures with trapped moths; and I am equally uncertain what to make of Marie's friend, Daniel, whose own poetic passion is inextricably bound to things that have been damaged beyond repair. I feel especially ambivalent about the introduction of the Swedish poet, Pierre, whose purpose seems ambiguous, if not contrived to further the narrative.
I found the constant flashbacks a source of frustration, as interesting as Suffragette Mary Richardson's slashing of the Velasquez painting of Venus peering into Cupid's mirror is (especially since 2013 is the 100th anniversary of women's desperate efforts--violence met with violence--to secure the right to vote); I found the author's digression on craquelure--the forming of cracks in an oil painting as it ages--fascinating. They are nevertheless digressions, designed to delay the promised dénouement, which, when it occurred, left me rather unsatisfied.
The author proliferates her narrative with tantalising passages that ring true, as when the narrator alludes to "the sort of promise one sincerely means while doubting it will be fulfilled." And the overall impression that "Asunder" left on me is of a novel in which a sincere promise was nevertheless, regretfully, left unfulfilled.
Reviewed for Vine; Amazon.com