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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 1 May 2013
I read this in one sitting and was really taken with it. As in her first novel, Chloe Aridjis has created a strange and unsettling world, full of enigmatic characters and lots of echoes and doubling. This is quite a haunting book, especially the passages about the suffragettes, which are really powerful, and the scenes in the National Gallery, which from now on will be a more mysterious place to me, but I also found a lot of dark humour and wit. And just when you think things have more or less settled into place, the narrative takes some pretty surprising turns. Asunder is a stranger and bolder work than Book of Clouds, but with the same kind of magic.
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Chloe Aridjis has written a curiously engaging novel. Marie is a security guard at the National Gallery and narrates the story. Her job fits her desire for a quiet introspective, ordered workaday life. 'Ambition has never been high on the list, nor marriage or adventure', she says. Yet she observes the artwork of the masters reflecting the inevitable passage of time in the form of cracks in the paintings. Not much has happened in the 9 years of her employment. An old colleague dies at the beginning of one of her duty periods. She tenderly recalls the memories of her beloved great-grandfather, also a guard at the National Gallery, whose attempts at preventing the suffragette Mary Richardson slashing the Rockeby Venus with a meat cleaver failed. The fragility and vulnerability of these works of art find Marie in her flat decorating egg shells and embossing moths in miniature landscapes, forming her own museum.

There is a darkly unstable wit in her enigmatic relationships with her friends, notably flatmate Jane and the bohemian poet Daniel who is a guard at the Tate Gallery. His poetry is unpublished by choice, a rebellious act or maybe fear of failure and acceptance. Marie's routine destabilises and she embarks on journeys including a trip to Paris with bizarre motives and strange results. Her loner life-style belies an underlying ability to be self-confident and independent with a strong sense of determination. Stories about herself and anecdotes are vignettes that are hold together and the novel is all the better for it. The prose is exemplary and makes for an enjoyable and interesting read. Thought-provoking even after finishing the book.
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The narrator of Chloe Aridjis's unusual new novel is Marie, a museum guard at the National Gallery, who spends her days quietly watching the visitors viewing the paintings, ready to step in should she see anyone acting suspiciously or perhaps moving too close to the works of art. But Marie does not just watch; she listens. Marie considers herself an expert in the sounds produced by different types of shoes on wooden floorboards; clogs, she tells us are the loudest; cork sandals the quietest, and boots produce a muffled crunch, like dog paws on snow. Marie also listens carefully to the museum's art restorer when she enters the room with her students, and explains to them about 'craquelure', the primary and secondary age cracks that appear on the surface of old works of art: "Forged craquelure is arbitrary, monotonous and pedantic ...natural craquelure throbs with rich variety."

When her working day is finished, Marie goes home to the flat she shares with friend Jane, and makes miniature installations of landscapes made from eggshells and from the dead moths which have invaded her flat. As Marie ponders on her life, we hear about her great grandfather Ted, who was a guard at the National Gallery in 1914, when a suffragette attacked Velasquez's 'Rokeby Venus' with a meat cleaver - a story with which Marie is fascinated and returns to throughout her narrative. Drifting through her days and through the streets of London, Marie leads a life which is lived mostly through the thoughts swirling around in her mind. A visit to Camden Market with her flatmate Jane, results in disappointment when she realizes how much the market has changed from when she lived in Camden High Street, sharing a flat with Lucian, a handsome Goth, for whom she suffered pangs of unrequited love. When she now catches sight of Lucian in the market, it is Jane who Lucian has eyes for, not Marie. A trip to a bed and breakfast in an unnamed northern cathedral city, results in a quick retreat home after an incident with a visitor from the neighbouring mental institution, and then a fortnight's stay in an apartment in Paris, and an unexpected encounter with a disconcerting stranger, encourages Marie to make surprising changes to her ordered life.

With opposing themes of passivity and violence and scattered with metaphors, this is a beautifully written, quietly fascinating and sometimes oblique story which, in places, seems almost like a piece of abstract art itself. If you prefer fast-paced plot-driven stories, this may not be to your taste, but if you enjoy art, beautiful writing, and something a little different, then this one is for you.
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on 15 July 2013
I found this a wonderful read for different reasons.

The subject of this book is most timely - i had never considered how slashing art could be so interesting - it doesn't hurt anyone and yet is so violent.
I also thought the language was beautifully crafted - you feel how each word has been placed. It is often very a poetical study of the human condition.
An unexpected, intense and clever novel. It deserves a long life.
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I admire so much Chloe Aridjis's writing that I would not pretend to 'review' it. This is only a simple comment to try and translate very clumsily how much I enjoy, love reading her books. The 'Book of Clouds' was beautiful and special enough, was it possible to rival such a wonderful achievement? Easily, it seems for Chloe Aridjis, who is, with this new novel, breathing again a very special kind of magic into its pages...What I love most about Aridjis, is that she captures effortlessly, very, very fine, delicate, evanescent moments of/in life. This is writing at a very subtle, very quiet level of existence because her soul must evolve at such subtle level too, obviously...Marie works as a guard at the National Gallery and observes people drifting through the rooms, gazing at masterpieces. One day she becomes interested to learn about 'craquelures' in the paintings, and so, Aridjis quietly drives our attention to minute, yet profound details, deep seismic movements hardly perceptible at the surface of things but motors for great, delayed impacts...The 'male gaze' is another theme, discussed in many ways, and 'Asunder' gives a vibrant tribute to the Suffragettes movement by the telling of this little known story (for me anyway) of Mary Richardson. The novel is full in that way of fascinating anecdotes, stories, all incredibly enriching and wonderful to read. Yet it all flows very simply as we follow the meanderings of Marie through London, meeting her friend Daniel the poet, sharing her flat with bizarre Jane, then later going for a holiday in Paris... Reading this book makes me deeply happy and reassured. Not all authors are about brash, noisy bestselling novels, but some, as Chloe Aridjis, are about novels offering new ways of seeing, perceiving, living...5 stars is very little for a book that contains constellations...
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on 27 June 2013
Wonderful novel, poetical and beautifully bizarre - it can take your mind away to make you experience different perspectives - highly recommended
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 June 2013
This unusual novel roams wide within what feels like a small, still space. Working as a museum guard, the narrator Marie has stood sentry at London's National Gallery for many years. Though to outsiders her job may seem monotonous, Marie takes it very seriously, absorbing not only the minutiae of the paintings but also the details of the visitors who come to gaze at them.

Chloe Aridjis writes with an unselfconscious but disquieting sensitivity, hard to explain, and the author is clearly every bit as patient as her narrator whose hobby is creating miniature landscapes within hollowed out eggs. I can't pretend to have understood quite all the elements of Ms Aridjis' story but found the digressions on 'craquelure' (the aging of oil paintings) and aspects of the suffragette movement really quite fascinating in their own right as well as metaphorically. I feel that this slow-burn of a book will reward the reader who looks for something 'other' in novels.
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on 11 January 2015
I loved this low-key story which almost swims through dingy places, through inconclusive encounters, and surprises us by shaking off the layers of dust and nostalgia, and finally stepping out gingerly into life. Like Botticelli's Primavera emerging from the sea...
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on 1 May 2013
This is a wonderfully beguiling book: the story of Marie, a museum guard at the National Gallery, and her complex web of relationships - with people, places, artworks and objects. She knows the precise distance to stand from a painting, but its the distance between people that preoccupies her. Beautifully crafted, the author delves into art history and creates an at times hallucinatory atmosphere. The narrative is powered by vivid imagery and rich language, which artfully disguises the deeper themes and issues. I read 'Asunder' compulsively but then went back, savouring sentences and soaking up the atmosphere. I think it will stay with me for a long time, like all the best paintings, and I will never look at those silent museum guards in the same way again.
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on 11 July 2013
Marie, the narrator of this story, is a museum guard at the London National Gallery. She tries to be discreet around, silently pacing the halls. Marie dresses in a gray uniform, being away from the public and art objects. She is responsible to see that no one is coming too close to the exhibits. But for her nine-year career she rarely had to raise her voice and pull up some of the visitors.
Marie is living with a woman named Jane, a public relations manager of a small record label. They are not a friends, simply share the apartment. In the evening, Marie is engaged in her art project, building a miniature landscape of eggshells and dead moths. On weekends, Marie walks alone, inspecting various parts of London, walking through the market, sometimes meet with a few friends.
Among them is Daniel, a middle-aged former museum guard with an interesting history. He and Marie met, both being as security guards, but Daniel later was fired because he created a lot of noise when walking.

The novel plot consists of the individual vignettes, scenes, thoughts of the heroine of the book. Here dies suddenly at work Marie's colleague, 69-year-old security guard. Marie and Jane win the lottery ticket with a prize of a trip to a strange cathedral town. They are staying at the hotel, but at the first night there they notice a madman outside who knocks on the window. One of the most striking parts of the book is Marie's memories of her great-grandfather Ted, who also worked as a museum guard.

The life of the protagonist, Marie, a straight line with a minimum of vibrations/events, but the book is glued together from fragments of life, each of which could be a separate novella. Almost missing plot of the novel is a reflection of the special eventness of the world of Asunder. There is not a driving force, which usually drags the novel forward, but that does not mean that the novel is static.

Chloe Aridjis created a world of modern London, but such one that it seems unreal. Almost all of the events of the book take place in the mind of the protagonist, and London is the continuation of the heroine, not a separate space. Aridjis inserts details in the novel, pointing to the fact that the action takes place in our time, but all the time it seems that this novel is a fantasy, and everything that happens happens in a parallel world. This contributes to the Gothic elements of individual vignettes, such as: visit to the French chateau, the history of imprisonment of a suffragette or even Marie's hobby.

Otherworldliness of the plot is also due to the fact that Marie almost doesn't communicate with anyone in the book. She has friends and acquaintances, she is valued at the gallery, she even corresponded with a criminal serving a sentence, but thiese relationships are not tortuous, but forced. Marie, it seems, does not need anybody, her communication to the world is purely an act of courtesy to the world: it asked, I answered. In the book there is a minimum of dialogue, and even when Marie is around someone, they do not always talk.

Asunder is a fascinating book about loneliness, which may have to be not to everyone's taste, but each certainly appreciate Aridjis' seductive use of language. The novel does not give answers to questions about the nature of loneliness, it is only, as an object of art, shows a snapshot of reality, one that the author sees, and gives the reader to consider desirable in the created.

This book, like a unusual paiting, can be watched for hours - it is something close to perfection.
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