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review 2013-10-21 22:21
Asunder - Chloe Aridjis


This is one of those books where I’m not sure if I’m being incredibly harsh with my rating, or whether it really is a case of style over substance. It just didn’t manage to fully grab me as I read it, my interest kept drifting in and out But then again at the same time I find myself still thinking about it now and wondering whether or not I’ve been unfair with my judgement.


There is no doubt that Asunder is a beautifully written book. Some of the description and imagery conjured up is seriously impressive. Lyrical in it’s style, yet in places powerful, I can recommend it highly for this alone.


A number of proper reviews have called this book ‘subtle.’ That’s usually a pointer towards ‘not a lot happens and it’s all overly pretentious’. And to a point that’d be right. The scenes with Marie’s artwork fit into this bracket and left me cold (and bored). Also, to some degree, the lengthier description of Daniel’s poetry. But then please do bear in mind that I am an insensitive brute.


But at the same time as I was growing frustrated with these parts of the story, the enjoyment came from watching the slow shift in Marie’s relationships with other people and the tensions that arose as she attempted to keep everything in its order. From her flatmates - current and former - occupying her dingy London accommodation (wonderfully described) to her fellow guard friend Daniel and his various associates, to the paintings she guards by day, I was just waiting for something in her to crack. The craquelure of life, baby. These are the points where the book excels.


Marie is clearly a worldly woman in her own way. Why then does she live the life of a semi-recluse? Will she manage improve her lot by the end of the book?


Coming in at 190 pages, there is no doubt that Chloe Aridjis has got some serious skill. The whole thing is concise with not a word wasted. For such a short novel it gives the feeling of the slow inexorable drudgery of life. And there, perhaps is why I can’t mark it higher. I’ve got enough drudgery in my own world.

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review 2013-10-19 10:22
Chloe Aridjis - Asunder
Asunder - Chloe Aridjis

There is a brilliant review of this book on amazon. It says:


“There are silly mistakes when talking about the gallery :
There is no gallery 88
There is no gallery 67
Human Resources haven’t been based in the Gallery building for the last 10 years.
Human Resources have nothing to do with picture movements and informing staff”


Other than that, the reviewer deems the book ‘enjoyable’.  The reason this review is brilliant is that it is almost metaliterary – it feels like it’s a review written by one of the characters stepping out of the pages of Asunder to voice their complaints. It could’ve even been Marie - Asunder’s narrator who is a guard at the National Gallery in London or one of the other characters who populate this seemingly quiet and introspective novel.


But don’t be fooled, because there is suppressed violence almost on every page, just underneath the surface. In fact, the characters just like the prose itself threaten to explode and rip the book apart, and yet the novel manages to restrain itself. There is also this unacknowledged sexuality in it that creeps around the edges and also poses a danger to the delicate balance.


Everything in ‘Asunder’ seems fragile – from the peace in the galleries, to Marie’s little art project (creating crumbling sculpture landscapes with moths) and even Marie’s friendship with Daniel needs to stay within clearly defined boundaries so as not collapse.


The patron saint of the novel is Mary Richardson – a frail looking, petite woman, who nonetheless was a militant suffragette and one day she walked into the National Gallery and slashed Rokeby Venus  with a chopper before anyone could stop her (and one who should’ve stopped her was Marie’s great grandfather who was a guard in that room at that time). This event serves as a leitmotif for the book as much as such a book can have a leitmotif, because as a reviewer in Publishers Weekly rightly pointed out 'Asunder' can’t be reduced to a single theme.



What I love about Aridjis and her books is how hypnotic her prose is, how lyrical and how interested in all those sensations no other writers concern themselves with. Chloe Aridjis matches my literary DNA – for each of her guanine there is my cytosine, for her adenine there is my thymine.


 Read this book if you want to know all my secrets. And here is one to get you started:


“At night I prefer to take the bus home though it often means transferring. To descend into the brightness of the Tube cancels out the day’s end too brusquely, while buses do the opposite by carrying you through the pensive streets.”

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review 2013-10-14 10:13
Review : Asunder by Chloe Aridjis
Asunder - Chloe Aridjis

A vague sense of foreboding persistently stalks the reader on every page of this narrative, as if something potentially dangerous and forbidding awaits one at the turn of the next page. But then the pages fly by, nothing truly nefarious ever materializes and the feeling finally settles in that the substance of this narrative lies not in a likely event of cosmic importance or even in the anticipation of its occurrence but in the minutiae a reader usually glosses over. 
The everyday happenings, some of them mystically inexplicable, some of them a little odd but so commonplace that they do not merit even a second thought let alone further introspection - the things we breeze past in an effort to dwell on the more materially satisfying aspects of life without realizing that each one of these discrete snippets of time spent with people in places is what makes up the structure of life itself.

As I glanced at the blurb (which clearly does not do the book justice even as a half-hearted synopsis), I felt a stab of sympathy for whoever wrote it (author/publisher/random intern), because not only is it very difficult to clearly define the contours of this book but it is equally trying to put one's finger on one strongly resonant theme in it since there are many. 

There's the subject matter of the suffragettes (the term used for women campaigning in Britain in the late 19th and 20th centuries for the female ballot) and a young Mary Richardson who had taken a blade to assault one of the priceless works of art in the National Gallery on the eve of the First World War while Marie's great-grandfather Ted was a guard at the museum. It's no coincidence that our protagonist is the namesake of this revolutionary since the shadow of Mary Richardson's act of bravado looms large over Marie's life, silently influencing her in ways she remains oblivious to.
Hence it can be stated that feminist undertones are delicately woven into the the narrative without being glaringly obvious. 

There's also an overarching feeling of the protagonist's unnerving indifference to most things, her tacit refusal to take the wheels of her own life and letting herself be propelled by happenings and the decisions made by people around herself. In the beginning I was speculating on the possibility of some sort of unique psychological condition plaguing her in an attempt to convincingly explain her aloofness from life or what could even be called her cowardice. But by the end of the narrative, I realized, a little bit of Marie's dogged impassivity lives inside all of us. 

She is haunted by the spectre of her own isolation in the midst of people and her inability to steer her life in the direction of romantic entanglements and fulfillment of any kind. As a guard at the National Gallery in London, Marie comes across many visitors from day to night who spend agonizing minutes peering over works of art which have been witness to centuries of history. With the passage of time, she starts equating the cracks and fissures showing up in the fabric of her life with the craquelures in the paintings. And finally when she confronts her own hesitations after an enigmatic encounter with an owner of a chateau in France, the reader is left with the parting message that Marie has finally summoned the courage to destabilize the status quo in her life just as a certain young Mary Richardson of yesterday had dismantled the status quo in the socio-political landscape.

Chloe Aridjis is a gifted story-teller. Her writing is richly atmospheric and often plays out like a discordant symphony, combining too many erratic musical notes together and yet sounding so perfectly melodious. Same can be said about her choice of original but beautiful metaphors.


"It began with those viragos, he'd tell me, comets detached from the firmament, deviant and sharply veering, long-haired vagabond stars, hissing through the universe on their solitary paths, a tear in the social fabric, threats to the status quo. Yes once war broke out, Ted said, their battle eclipsed by larger events, became no more than one of many lit matches in the stratosphere."

This book made me feel thankful for my relationship with Netgalley which has allowed me to discover such promising new female authors as Chloe Aridjis and Nina Schuyler. In other words, this is very highly recommended.

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review 2013-10-07 12:55
Decent Literary Fiction -- But I Couldn't Connect with the Main Character
Asunder - Chloe Aridjis

Marie is a security guard at the London's National Gallery ... and something of an artist in her own right.  She decides to become a guard at the museum after hearing her grandfather, Ted, talk about his time there -- during which a suffragette damaged one of the paintings.

Marie is still a little in love with her ex, Julian.  When Julian gets involved with Marie's flatmate, Jane, she decides to take advantage of an opportunity to visit Paris with a friend, Daniel.

The plot is a little confusing and surreal, I have to say.  The prose is beautiful, and the settings well-described.  However, I never did find a connection with Marie; even at the end of the book, I found her motives for *every decision* confusing.

I know that the author has won several accolades, and there's no doubt that she's an outstanding wordsmith.  This book just was not my cup of tea.

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review 2012-03-30 14:17
Chloe Aridjis - Book Of Clouds
Book of Clouds - Chloe Aridjis

Reading this was like lying on the grass and watching clouds. After two hours nothing truly happened, although something beautiful transpired and you feel like a poet. 

As the back cover would tell you ‘Book of Clouds’ is about a Mexican woman adrift in Berlin. I quite liked that this immigrant story did not include the British/American perspective. The world Tatiana came from and the world she came to are both foreign worlds to a regular British or American. Aridjis successfully married off Latin American melancholy and magical realism with German modernism and suffocating history penetrating every street and every building.

Some reviewers said they wanted to know more about the reasons behind Tatiana’s disconnection with the world and her taste for escaping. It seems to me that those readers are used to those books where one secret explains all. Real life ain’t like that. Sometimes you just can’t connect with the world, because you can’t, and not because your dad accidentally killed your mother, or because your fiance ran away with your sister. 

I felt this book like I haven’t felt a book in a long while. I felt the bits about the light and the darkness, the bits about sounds invading your sleep, the bits about trying hard to keep your neurosis in check. And the part about wanting to move away and start anew knowing damn well nothing really changes. And, of course, the bit about detachable shower heads. 

And when the old professor fumbled with a broken Dictaphone looking worried and helpless I wanted to cry and then Tatiana cried too and that’s when I decided I would give this book five stars.

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