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Review: Asunder by Chloe Aridjis

by Chloe Aridjis

As a guard at the National Gallery in London, Marie spends her days watching visitors as they examine art. As they get lost in the brushstrokes of masters, she gets lost in her own contemplations. Her mind constantly flutters from one topic to the next: stories her great-grandfather told about the suffragette Mary Richardson vandalizing the Rokeby Venus during his shift, cracks on the art, footwear, the expressions on faces as they walk past her…At the end of her shift, Marie quietly returns to flat where she crafts little worlds with paint and eggshells and dead moths. Sometimes, she goes out with her flatmate or her friend Daniel, but her life is usually quite solitary, and she is content with that. But the tranquility of her life is slowly disrupted, first by the return of an old crush and then with a winter trip to Paris, and Marie is forced to confront the world outside her narrow, confined routines.

I’m quite torn on this novel. The book invites the reader to drift with Marie in its early pages. As she watches the art of the National Gallery, her meditations slowly paint the picture of her world. As cramped and small as her life is – her job is a dead-end one, her social circle is nonexistent, and her idea of fun is gluing dead insects into frankly tacky-sounding backdrops – her obvious contentment in her little projects make the narrative into a lovely, flowing dream. But then the airiness drops out and the story suddenly becomes very plot-driven, and the shift in pacing – clearly intentional, as Marie is wrenched from her little dream world – is jarring. This new story just doesn’t appeal as the one in earlier chapters.

In some ways, Marie reminds me of the title character in the French film Amelie, albeit without the movie character’s altruistic interests. She’s a quiet, quirky young woman watching the world but always holding herself back from it. But Marie lacks Amelie’s charm; everything about her seems somewhat dulled, to the point that she has no edges and no emotions. There isn’t much about her to identify with or become fond of. So, if you find the machinations of her brain interesting, that interest can sustain the story for a while, but I didn’t find it enough to carry me through the tonal change of the story to the end.

Yet this is a well-crafted story. Intellectually, I understand why the story is constructed the way it is, and the intention to showcase Marie’s growth in the structure of the book is ambitious, even admirable. But ultimately, it doesn’t create a lead character that captivates. It’s an interesting book to read once, just to see how it was done, but I don’t find this to be a book I’ll want to read again and again.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about Asunder, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Merry Christmas!
2011: Fashionista Piranha on hold for a few weeks!
2010: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2009: Discussion Question: Books as Gifts?
2008: Deborah’s Story by Ann Burton


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