Fiction Asunder - Omnivore

Published on June 7th, 2013


Asunder by Chloe Aridjis

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Blurb: Marie’s job as a museum guard at the National Gallery in London offers her the life she always wanted, one of invisibility and quiet contemplation. But amid the hushed corridors of the Gallery surge currents of history and violence, paintings whose power belie their own fragility. There also lingers the legacy of her great-grandfather Ted, the warder who slipped and fell moments before reaching the suffragette Mary Richardson as she took a blade to one of the gallery’s masterpieces on the eve of the First World War. After nine years there, Marie begins to feel the tug of restlessness. A decisive change comes in the form of a winter trip to Paris, where, with the arrival of an uninvited guest and an unexpected encounter, her carefully contained world is torn apart. (Chatto & Windus)

Michele Roberts, The Independent

“The narrative appears to drift, like a flâneuse, just as Marie does, which is exhilarating. The novel wonderfully disobeys all conventional rules of realism and plotting, of show-don’t-tell. It has minimal dialogue. Much of its action takes place inside Marie’s mind. Structured by metaphors of opposing states, it describes and embodies the imagination, currently scorned in our realism-obsessed, memoir-obsessed culture.”

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Peter Carty, The Independent on Sunday

“Aridjis’s writing is refreshingly escapist on at least a couple of levels. Characters who explicitly spurn conventional careers and lifestyle aspirations are appealing. However passive Marie seems, when it comes to exerting autonomy over her life, a winning self-esteem and assertiveness are evident. Moreover, the novel itself has escaped from the straitjacket of conventional narrative and plot. Instead, Marie delivers stories about herself and others, allusive anecdotes which create elegant splays of loose ends. This determined provisionality leaves Asunder free to devote itself to mood and atmosphere, in which it is highly successful.”

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Tamzin Baker, The Financial Times

Given that Asunder lacks a conventional plot, the fact that it is such an absorbing and moving book says much about Aridjis’s skill as a writer. Her unusual imagery and lyrical style breathe life into this otherwise sombre story. Though we are only privy to Marie’s small, tentative existence, the scope of Aridjis’s book is much wider.”

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Alexandra Harris, The Guardian

This is a book about quietness and violence. Carefully curated blandness flares up into spectacle; economy of word and action gives way to melodrama. Marie is a woman who favours self-erasure, loves her grey gallery uniform, courts boredom, avoids risk, prefers not to shine; yet the novel she narrates is an original and assertive performance with more than a hint of the baroque.

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Francesca Wade, Literary Review

“Aridjis’s lucid and captivating writing renders this endeavour largely successful, although her style is at times rather oblique: Marie’s connection with the suffragettes and the disturbing pictures she finds in her friend’s possession are potentially meaningful motifs never fully developed. But while action is sparing and the pace is slow, Aridjis delivers the sinister conclusion threatened throughout.”

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Francesca Angelini, The Sunday Times

“Eschewing a conventional narrative, this absorbing, episodic novel deceptively contains a crackling energy within its understated, artful prose.”

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