cover image The Life of Objects

The Life of Objects

Susanna Moore. Knopf, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-26843-3

In Moore’s (In the Cut) latest novel, objects have complicated lives—they’re bought, collected, requisitioned, buried, stolen, sold, and bartered—and so do people. It’s Germany during WWII, and strange and awful occurrences are becoming common. Even the rich and politically connected Felix and Dorothea Metzenburg can no longer guarantee their safety—or that of Beatrice Palmer, the book’s narrator, who, in a series of unlikely circumstances, has come from Ireland to work for them. The bulk of the story takes place on Dorothea’s country estate, to which the family, with 23 wagons of Felix’s art and objects, retreat when Berlin becomes untenable. There the war switches between a distant rumor on illegal radio broadcasts and, with food shortages, disappearances, and bombings, a reality. It becomes clear that Felix’s moral and aesthetic sensibilities will not allow him to cooperate with the National Socialist state. Although the book starts slowly, once we’re accustomed to Beatrice’s measured style, she’s an appealing, sometimes touching guide to a world where luxury and devastation coexist; friends may be spies; a Cranach painting means less than the potatoes it buys; all kinds of refugees seek safety on the estate; relationships change; and safety, although not love, is illusory. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, the Gernert Agency. (Sept.)