Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Body Artist

"You don't know how to love the ones you love until they disappear abruptly. Then you understand how thinly distanced from their suffering, how sparing of self you often were, only rarely unguarded of heart, working your networks of give-and-take."

I've just finished reading Don DeLillo's The Body Artist, a haunting novella about the grieving of a lone widow who encounters a mysterious stranger living in the house that she shared with her late husband. It's a bizarre and unexpected story that came after DeLillo's magnus opus, the critically acclaimed Underworld. As with a number of his other novels, the story unravels almost as a psychoanalytical portrait, with yet another middle class character dealing with an unexpected turn of events featuring elements of mystery and science fiction that DeLillo fans will no doubt expect to be left unexplained. What really attracts me to his work is his deft grasp of human behavior and motive, the opening scene here between the husband and wife having breakfast and the dry description of mundane interaction is a shining example, and his continued interest in weaving psychology, sociology and philosophy into his writing.

With this novella DeLillo meditates on the themes of identity, loneliness, loss and desire, and more so than any of his other works it questions the unknown and the state of the human consciousness in solitude and our relation to time and space as we perceive it. The Body Artist may not seem quite as ambitious as his other works upon cursory glance but dig a little deeper and you may agree that it's perhaps even more ambitious than DeLillo's grasp and his own intellectual limitations, but either way it's certainly a captivating and disturbing read, and one that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. I highly recommend it.

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