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Thursday, May 26, 2022

In brief: Allegorizings; Chouette; Invisible Ink – reviews | Books

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Jan Morris
Faber, £14.99, pp224

“By the time you read it I shall be gone!” declares Jan Morris, making death sound much like a conjuring trick. She was writing back in 2009, having decided that this essay collection would be published posthumously, and its pages are indeed sprinkled with magic – the literary kind that her pen brings to scenes from her long, peripatetic life. She recalls past travels, and muses on topics from nationalism and nose-picking to Diana, Princess of Wales and homemade marmalade (Morris enjoyed it with sausages). There is mischief here, too: the book’s title derives from a late-life conviction that everything – “the whole damned caboodle” – is allegory. It makes for a shrewd and characterful coda to a singular career.

Claire Oshetsky
Virago, £14.99, pp256

This wildly imagined debut presents a parable of maternal love unlike any other you’ll have encountered. Its heroine is Tiny, a cellist who is convinced that she’s become pregnant not by her handsome husband but by her owl lover. Sure enough, when the baby is born, she is winged and fierce, alarming doctors. For the husband, Chouette is a project – something to fix, no matter how dangerous the cure. Tiny, meanwhile, loves her as she is, becoming nocturnal and feeding her frozen mice so that she can be her authentic self. Dark wit, tenderness, music, enchantment – they’re all part of a story that remains oddly relatable despite its dazzling strangeness.

Patrick Modiano (translated by Mark Polizzotti)
Yale University Press, £12.99, pp176 (paperback)

The French Nobelist mines familiar preoccupations to mesmerising effect in his latest novel. It centres on Jean Eyben, who in his 20s worked briefly as a private detective in Paris, tasked with finding a vanished woman named Noëlle Lefebvre. Her fate became an obsession, and three decades later he resumes his search. The city of light is marvellously evoked, a metropolis dense with mystery and motif, teeming with ghosts from its often wilfully forgotten past. Tantalising hints that Lefebvre might somehow be connected to Eyben help drive an engrossing narrative in which questions of ageing and memory are central.

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