cover image Asunder


Chloe Aridjis. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner, $13.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-544-00346-0

Marie, the protagonist and narrator of this stunningly good second novel (after Book of Clouds), works as a guard at London’s National Gallery—a quiet job for a quiet person who shares a flat with a woman named Jane and spends her evenings creating miniature landscapes in hollowed-out eggshells. The plotting is rail-thin—a co-worker collapses and dies on the job; Marie and Jane visit an eerie cathedral town; Marie travels to Paris with her friend and former colleague, Daniel Harper—but the author creates a strange but palpable narrative momentum. More important, Aridjis casts a powerful light on all kinds of subjects with her digressions: the 1914 attack on one of the gallery’s masterpieces (Velàzquez’s Rokeby Venus) by suffragette Mary Richardson is connected to the coming “great European disorder” of WWI. “Craquelure,” the tendency of paint to crack on the canvas, becomes a metaphor for entropic decay even as it “throbs with rich variety.” A book of photographs of “somewhat savage women” is glossed as “female lives condensed into a series of dramatic gestures.” While there’s a distinctly feminist scent wafting through the pages of this short, beautiful novel, it never feels remotely polemical—in fact, it’s all the more powerful for being so irreducible to a single theme. Aridjis’s intelligent prose makes this slight story into something dramatic and affecting, completely coherent and oddly irresistible. It is a brilliant book. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Sept. 17)