Sunday, May 26, 2013
Long-time readers of this blog may well remember the day I found and fell in love with Chloe Aridjis's first novel, Book of Clouds. It was a penetrable strange. It vibed mystique. It was Berlin wrapped in the gauze of supernatural weather and smoldering Hitler fumes.
Book of Clouds served as a reminder that novels don't need a category—or easy flap copy—to succeed. It also introduced me to the book's editor, Lauren Wein, whose books have consistently thrilled me and whose friendship is one those things I treasure most in my writing life. I profiled Lauren here, in Publishing Perspectives. She has a remarkable vision and a portfolio of edited books that is essentially unrivaled in the adult publishing world. She chooses, edits, fights for, and nurtures the unobvious—the sort of stories that many a mainstream editor overlooks, the sort of titles that go on to win prizes. (Book of Clouds won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger in France.) Lauren's titles are written by authors who take their time, who fold in and across multiple themes, who have something to say. Novels as saturations. Novels as spills of the imagination.
Last week, Lauren sent me two of her newest titles, one of which was Asunder, Aridjis's second book. Already released in the United Kingdom, boxed with a star from Publishers Weekly ("stunningly good novel," they called it, also "brilliant"), Asunder is even better than Clouds—more self assured, more seductively strange, more cohering. I read it in a day, my breath held, my thoughts streaming: Can she pull this off, she is pulling this off, she has pulled this off, until I closed the book and pumped my fist, victory style. Chloe Aridjis wields enormous intelligence and knowing in this story about an art museum guard named Marie. She folds history in—a 1914 attack on a Velazquez painting by an angry suffragette. She teaches craquelure—the slow decomposition of paintings over time. She studies the art one might make and hold and the art one must never touch. She creates distance and broaches it. She yields men and women together, and apart. She writes magnificently, like this:
After we'd made ourselves a quick cup of tea from a little tray, we set out. By then dusk had turned into an empty-handed magician who kept a few paces ahead of us, snuffing out the streets seconds before we reached them, robbing us of the sights we'd come to see. One by one, the lights in shop windows were switched off, cafe tables and chairs brought in, postcard racks folded up.Look, I loved this book. What more can I say?
Asunder is due out in September from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.