11 February, 2015

Asunder by Chloe Aridjis [Biddy, Highland Park]

This unusual novel follows Marie, a young woman who works as a guard at the National Gallery in London. She drifts quietly through her days, donning her gray uniform, her near-invisibility a stark contrast to the splendour of the art works surrounding her. She has chosen this career as she has "always been more interested in being than becoming" and appears content in her contemplative role, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather Ted.

Marie's days involve warning visitors not to stand too close to the masterpieces at times or merely watching for any nuances that may hint of threatening behaviour. She is aware of the possible dangers to the collection as Ted experienced a rude interruption one day in 1914 when the suffragette Mary Richardson slashed Velasquez's Rokeby Venus as he slipped while running to apprehend her.

Marie accepts an invitation from her friend Daniel, an aspiring poet and guard at Tate Britain, to join him on a two week break to Paris. There is a hint that their relationship might move to another level but this doesn't eventuate and their break is interrupted by Pierre from Stockholm who demands all of Daniel's attention and forces Marie back into her familiar role of silent observer.

Marie joins the two men on a tour of a hamlet in Burgundy, Challement, where they visit a chateau in a state of "wondrously indifferent dilapidation". They encounter the chatelain, a recluse, who they disturb from his bed in one of the enormous chimneys in the chateau. Marie is deeply affected by the encounter and it leads her to change her life when they return to London.

This is a true literary novel where Aridjis' poetic use of language is a delight throughout the book.

Title: Asunder
Author: Chloe Aridjis
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, London
Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780701187415

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