Summary and book reviews of Asunder by Chloe Aridjis

Asunder

By Chloe Aridjis

Asunder
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  • Paperback: Sep 2013,
    208 pages.

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Book Summary

Marie's job as a 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 belies their own fragility. There also lingers the legacy of her great-grandfather Ted, the museum guard 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 open.

Asunder is a rich, resonant novel of beguiling depths and beautiful strangeness, exploring the delicate balance between creation and destruction, control and surrender.

ONE

They call us guards, warders, invigilators, room keepers, gallery assistants. We are watchmen, sentinels, but we don’t polish guns, shoes or egos. We are custodians of a national treasure, a treasure beyond value stored behind eight Corinthian columns of a neoclassical façade, the dreams of the ancients stuccoed to our building. And our title should honour that.

I came to my profession half by chance, half following an ancestral call. After stumbling upon an ad for a Travelling Exhibition Assistant, I applied for the position but found the vacancy had been filled. Yet the kind man who answered my call mentioned another opening, this one at the British Museum. A guard had just resigned due to the diagnosis of an incurable ailment, and decided he wanted to spend his remaining months staring at something other than nymphs and satyrs locked in battle. They offered him the choice of other wings but he said he wanted to leave London and retire from culture.

My time there didn&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions for Asunder by Chloe Aridjis

  1. Early in the novel Marie concedes that her position as guard is actually suited to those afflicted by acedia, a state of torpor in which a person no longer cares about her position or condition in the world. She claims to be free of the ailment, stating (on page 2): "...I do not suffer from boredom or listlessness." Yet we rarely see her act - at least in the beginning of the novel - and her primary interest seems to be inaction or immobility in one form or another. Do you agree with Marie that she does not suffer from acedia?
  2. One could say that Marie is defined by her inaction. As a museum guard, she considers intervening several times (on pages 65 and 68, forexample) but stays still...
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Reviews

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It is to Chloe Aridjis' enormous credit that she makes the daily machinations of a museum guard riveting reading. Marie’s days might be outwardly repetitive and even boring but the reader sees her mind working in inventive and interesting ways...As Marie tries to make peace with her internal struggles, there’s a tightly wound energy that’s apparent on every wonderful page, just waiting to leap up and hold the reader in its welcome embrace.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Diana Athill, author of Stet and Somewhere Towards the End
Brilliantly exact and disconcerting, Asunder exists with an intensity stronger than that of most novels. Reading it is absorbing and enlarging to the imagination.

Author Blurb Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation
Chloe Aridjis writes about sensations at the edges of perception, capturing experiences rarely included in fiction. A surprising sensibility and an effortlessly original voice.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Aridjis's intelligent prose makes this slight story into something dramatic and affecting, completely coherent and oddly irresistible. It is a brilliant book.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Dark and peculiar, simultaneously sinister and playful, Aridjis' modern gothic vision will charm those prepared to linger in her cabinet of curiosities.

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Craquelure

As Chloe Aridjis explains in Asunder, a painting too must obey the laws of physics - in that it slowly - ever so slowly - descends from "order" (the finished painting) into disorder. This "disorder" is brought about by a series of cracks in the paint or varnish that forms a network over time. This network is called craquelure (pronounced crack-lure). The cracks are formed as result of drying forces, responses to humidity and a number of other environmental factors. As time goes on, paint dries and undergoes shrinkage which, in turn, creates cracks. The pressure on these paintings is higher at the edges than it is in the center, which means cracks are more pronounced at the edges of a painting. Even the human touch can set off a series of ...

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