Tag Archives: museums

Clothes Make the Man

Proust’s Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini, Translated by Eric Karpeles (Ecco; $19.99; 144 pages)

“A rare and wonderfully written book.”   Michael Ondaatje

“Proust had also been measured for an overcoat in plaid with a bright purple lining.   He said he was going to leave it in the cloakroom…”   William C. Carter (Proust: A Life)

A confession is in order here at the beginning of the review.   I have never read the writings of Marcel Proust.   The only sense I have of him comes from the charming line drawing made by his friend Jean Cocteau.   The drawing is indicative of the clique of quirky artists who lived in France at the end of the 19th century.   It is the drawing and collage-like cover of Lorenza Foschini’s petite volume that drew me to this book.  

Don’t let the size of the book influence a purchase decision.   This is not a casual account of the artifacts of a world-famous writer’s life.   Rather, Proust’s Overcoat reveals the power of the collecting urge that can take hold of a person.  

Jacques Guerin was the collector whose passion for everything Proust led him to stalk the belongings that remained after Proust’s death.   Guerin’s perfume business afforded him the funds necessary to purchase the desk, bed, pictures and, of course, the iconic overcoat.   The surviving Proust family members and a junk dealer named Werner made these and many other acquisitions into sequential victories that were celebrated by Guerin over the course of many years.

Just as a curator arranges the items of the museum’s collection into a catalogue, author Foschini has done the same with the written and pictorial history of the items from Marcel Proust’s life.   The way in which his surviving family members treated the belongings revealed the mixed feelings they felt for him.   Isn’t that always the way with families?

Highly recommended.   A knowledge of literature or museums is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

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The Hypnotist

The Hypnotist by M.J.  Rose (MIRA)

“(W)hat I thought was missing her has really been the part of me that loved her like that.”

Author M.J. Rose has the ability to gently pull her reader into a web of intrigue.   Once begun, this tale unfolds magically and then it’s too late to turn back or put the book down.   The Hypnotist is the third in The Reincarnationist series.   Rose’s subtle character development allows the reader to move through time with the main character, an FBI agent specializing in the recovery of stolen art.   The plot provides a charming mix of Middle Eastern political intrigue, family dynamics, museum culture and, of course, the notion of reincarnation.   The premise of the story is that the power to control people is more valuable than money.   In this case control is mind control.

Many of the characters are portrayed with both physical attributes and realistic medical conditions.   It is refreshing to read about someone who is a thoughtful, intelligent older woman who, by the way, has multiple sclerosis.   However, not all of the characters are so well conceived.   The mercenaries – and there are quite a few of them – are stereotypically heartless and greedy, lacking any real dimension.

M.J. Rose is at her best when providing reverential descriptions of art works, primarily paintings and sculpture.   Clearly, she has a comfortable working knowledge of daily life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.   She fills the museum with wide-eyed elementary school children playing among the exhibits that occupy the public spaces and quirky curators and restorers who work their magic behind the scenes in the depths of the immense building.

The author’s disarmingly soothing voice works to her advantage when she explores the notion of reincarnation.   She draws the reader into a complex mix of reality and imagination that spans time and location.   The Hypnotist relies on a dreamlike romanticism for its charm.   Many chapters begin with thought-provoking quotes regarding energy, souls and afterlife.   The most compelling scenes are the ones in which the action is served to the reader using pragmatic, low-key descriptions of horrific actions in the past and present.

M.J. Rose is a very skillful storyteller.   No wonder Fox Television will soon have a show based on the premise of this series of her books.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   An advance review copy was provided by MIRA Books.

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