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In a house in a quiet street in North London, Helena struggles with her self-appointed task of writing a book about the reclusive American artist Joseph Cornell. At the same time she dreams and thinks about her sister Alice working in an orphanage in Chechnya. She is certain that Alice despises her for living a life of comfort and privilege, far away from the horrors of war; yet she knows too that her work is more than self-indulgence. How to reconcile these two visions? Enter Ed, a Czech journalist and photographer who claims he has been working in Chechnya and brings news of Alice, along with the request for a bed for the few days he has to be in London. Gabriel Josipovici’s sparkling new novel charts the course of those few days, as Joseph Cornell’s mysterious life and the strange boxes he constructed wage a silent struggle in Helena’s mind and spirit with the imperatives of the present.
how come that he too seems to be an inhabitant, at work in the house as he was at work in his own cellar in Utopia Parkway, like a bird building a nest? For that seems to be the meaning of that enigmatic entry: ‘Then I was in the house on the Hill working like an herbalist or apothecary of old with those sweet scents in my own fashion.’ And what is the force of that opening ‘then’? In another life? In the summer of 1944? In 1947, like Krapp commenting on tape on past tapes, he writes in his
says. But I know what you mean. None of the big apartment blocks which you see in every European city. Their coffee arrives. – Little rooms, he says. And then behind, little gardens. – Lots of gardens, she says. – But so little. So thin. – But now you can get to Paris in two hours by train it’s beginning to feel part of Europe. London is, at least. – But without the traumas of Europe, he says. The traumas are what make Europe what it is today. Not the big apartments. – You think so? – The
day? he asks. – One day? – Why not? – I thought you were only here for another couple of days? – Perhaps tomorrow? They walk. – Perhaps, she says. – With my wife, he says, we often swim in the river. You lie on your back and the current will take you under many bridges. On the bridges, people waving. Then it is very difficult to swim back. – Because of the current? – Yes. – It sounds wonderful, she says. – Yes, he says. – When was the last time you did this? – Long time ago, he
bona fide journalist. He’d have to sneak in. It’s not worth it. – Bona fide journalist, he says. Well well. – He might go to one of the neighbouring republics. Apparently that’s where the next big story will break. – Why? – Because you can’t really stamp out rebellion. You crush it in one place and it springs up in another. The Christian Church knew that very well in its early years. The only way to win is to enlist those you would convert to your own side. Don’t destroy their temples, turn
like when I first saw it. A whole city in ruin. They would bring the tanks and stand them in what was before the main square of Grozny and fire mortars at the walls that were still standing. Then they would watch as the walls collapsed and the frightened squatters fled. Then they would turn the tanks and roll back to the barracks. He takes a cigarette out of the packet in front of him, taps it on the back of his hand and puts it in his mouth. – No, she says. – I’m sorry. – I told you, she