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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Books – Important Artefacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry – Leanne Shapton

Star rating 7/10

This is by far the most original novel, if indeed that is what it can be called, that I have read this year. I am struggling with the classification, as what Leanne Shapton has created here is the story of a relationship, told via an auction catalogue containing various bits of material evidence of that relationship, and the possessions that chart its ebbs and flows.

It is told via the black and white photographs in the catalogue that begin with the meeting of Lenore and Harold, affectionately know as Hal and 'Buttertart', at a friend’s Halloween party and tracking their relationship in a very revealing, intimate and entirely original way. Indeed it is so obvious that it’s a wonder no-one thought if it before. We all do it (or maybe that’s just the females of the species). We keep mementos of our lovers in the form of cards received, tickets from events we have attended together, e mails we have exchanged, gifts we have given, and photographs that chart this all this so lovingly.

Lenore is a Canadian living in New York who is starting out on her career as a food writer with an occasional newspaper column about cake. Fellow New Yorker Hal is a British slightly older man whose career as a photographer frequently takes him away from his girlfriend. The way is which this book takes us right to the heart of the intimate little exchanges between this couple feels almost indecent.

And we see the relationship blossom, flounder, and unravel before our eyes. He is a bit of a commitment phobe who also needs a psychiatrist. She is a lively cake creator who catalogues the minutiae of their partnership in a borderline obsessive manner.

Shapton makes us like these characters, and really feel for them as we take the journey with them. The only words are the descriptions of each catalogue entry, but it feels as if we have lived each intimate and argument moment with them. A very original and creative idea which is very well executed and enjoyable, if a little sad in its seemingly inevitable conclusion.

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