Thursday, May 15, 2014

Asunder by Chloe Aridjis

They call us guards, warders, invigilators, room keepers, gallery assistants.  We are watchmen, sentinels, but we don't polish guns, shoes or egos.  We are custodians of a national treasure, a treasure beyond value stored behind eight Corinthian columns of a neoclassical facade, the dreams of the ancients stuccoed to our building.  And our title should honor that.
Asunder is a short book, but it demands a lot of its reader.  Its main character, Marie, is a guard at the National Gallery in London where she has worked for nine years becoming intimately acquainted with the museum's many works of art and sinking into a life of days marked by routine and lack of ambition.    There is little plot to speak of, just Marie's slow dawning realization that she's allowed her life to become like one of the paintings she guards: ripe for contemplation but requiring her to maintain a safe distance.  Marie's life within Aridjis' pages is austere, marked by long days at the museum, evenings crafting delicate dioramas from egg shells, and a bizarre friendship with fellow museum-guard and poet, Daniel, a relationship that demands the following of a certain set of rules to "thrive,"  and a relationship that each fails to push beyond the realm of awkward friendship despite numerous opportunities.

I struggled with very mixed feelings about Asunder.  On one hand, Aridjis's writing is compelling.  She can turn a phrase, and the way she describes the strung together episodes of Marie's life draws out the mundane life she leads as well as a few surreal, bizarre occurrences that finally set up Marie's life for a change.   On the other hand, Asunder is a very short book that took me so long to read because I ended up pausing numerous times to stare into the middle distance trying to piece together what seemed to be a collection of unrelated events into some sort of cohesively themed whole.  I always felt like I was on the verge of understanding the larger scheme of what Aridjis was trying to say but never quite getting there.  In the end, without a little more help understanding the nature of Marie's transformation, Asunder failed to make the jump from a compelling piece of artful writing to an engaging story, and I was left with the distinct impression that I was missing something, rather than the closure I was looking for in Asunder.

(Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry this one wasn't better for you. It does sound like a book that would require your full attention. Do you think the problems you found with it would have been helped by a longer book? It kind of doesn't sound like it, but maybe.