Gen­tly break­ing out of no­tional boxes

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - HO­TEL AN­DROMEDA By Gabriel Josipovici Car­canet, £12.95 RE­VIEWED BY STOD­DARD MARTIN Stod­dard Martin is a pub­lisher, writer and critic

Gabriel Josipovici’s qual­i­ties of thought and craft put him near the top among writ­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. His range and pro­duc­tiv­ity in novel and es­say are vast, and he is for­tu­nate to have a pub­lisher who un­der­stands the im­por­tance of the slight and the ex­per­i­men­tal within a fin­ished oeu­vre. Beethoven was about the late quar­tets as much as the great sym­phonies.

Coun­ter­point, fugue — pat­tern­ing de­vices which young artists strug­gle to mas­ter — come to the aid of age­ing ge­nius. Artist Joseph Cor­nell, whose ca­reer is wo­ven through Josipovici’s new fic­tion, grew in­creas­ingly adept at fus­ing dis­parate el­e­ments into har­mony — the tran­scen­den­tal dreams es­cap­ing the sor­did en­trap­ment of “real” life — and one of the in­tri­cate boxes he cre­ated later in life gives Josipovici his ti­tle.

This book is com­pact — a “blest nou­velle” to use Henry James’s term — but built upon big themes. Cor­nell is the sub­ject of a study by pro­tag­o­nist He­lena, but she strug­gles over how to ap­proach him: as bi­og­ra­pher or as art-critic? Stymied by this dilemma, she wan­ders from top to bot­tom of her north-Lon­don house pre­tend­ing she is not search­ing for ad­vice. At the top is saga­cious old Ruth, who has ob­served He­lena’s strug­gles for years; in the base­ment is jour­nal­ist Tom, who charm­ingly per­sists against re­peated re­jec­tion in of­fer­ing her love. En­ter Ed, a Czech pho­tog­ra­pher who knew He­lena’ said-worker-sis­ter in Chech­nya. He ap­pears at He­lena’s door with nowhere to stay and re­mains past his wel­come. I n the mean­time, he is able to help her break out of her own “box”, both pro­fes­sional and ex­is­ten­tial. A vi­tal part of the pat­tern, Ed’s de­scrip­tions of tragic Grozny af­ford

Josipovici an oblique op­por­tu­nity to sug­gest ways in which whole peo­ples might es­cape the po­lit­i­cal “boxes” that en­trap them; or, if not quite that, at least to com­pre­hend the sor­did re­al­ity of them.

Ho­tel An­dromeda has its own kind of un­bear­able light­ness of be­ing. It is as easy to read as it was per­haps tor­tu­ous to con­struct. He­lena’s dilemma coun­ter­points her sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian au­thor’s artis­tic strat­egy, and some read­ers may find mo­ments when pas­tiche seems to mask long­ing for a more straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive. But such olden style would not have suited Josipovici’s es­sen­tially mod­ernist mat­ter, and he knows it. His ap­proach en­ables not only har­monic fu­sion of his own dis­parate the­matic con­cerns, but might also solve He­lena’s writerly prob­lem.

One ends by imag­in­ing with plea­sure her un­writ­ten book on Joseph Cor­nell.

PHOTO: CAREW HUNT

Gabriel Josipovici: mod­ernist

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