Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chloe Aridjis's Book of Clouds

I don't remember how I came to put Chloe Aridjis's Book of Clouds (2009) into the Stack, probably on the strength of a glowing notice somewhere. It is her first book, a fictional memoir of a woman in her twenties who spends five rather desolate years in Berlin from 2002 to 2007. It is full of observations of the city and of Germans, but the real topic is the ennui of an intelligent young woman who is solitary, who appreciates melancholy, who is content to drift but not so content as to have no self-doubts. She works for an elderly historian who does Walter Benjamin-like explorations of the city's forgotten spaces, and she has a brief relationship with a meteorologist who speaks eloquently about clouds. She is chronically disengaged, however, and her experiences are taken in as observations even when they are personally challenging (getting lost in the dark underground, making love).

This detachment is expressed in a cool, elegant, matter-of-fact prose. This is a book written "in the zone," the author maintains an atmosphere, channeling style from the emotional portrait of the low-affect narrator. It is a good, fast read even as it evokes a slow pace of life. Aridjis and her narrator both grew up in Mexico City and there is a Latin sense of the surreal that is nicely understated; she tends to think people are in disguise. I hope that her critical success with this book inspires her to write something more substantial because she does write very well.

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