Review of The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose book cover
Allen & Unwin
RRP $27.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose won the Stella Prize in 2017 and has been sitting on my TBR pile since receiving an unsolicited copy way back in August 2016.

Marina Abramovic's installation in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010 was called The Artist is Present, in which Marina sat at a table and members of the public would sit opposite her and maintain eye contact without speaking. Marina did this for 75 days - a total of 736 hours and 30 minutes - from March to May that year and sat across from 1,545 sitters. She did this without moving, and without water, meal, or toilet breaks all in the name of art.

With the permission and blessing of several people involved (including Marina) Australian author Heather Rose has created a narrative around the exhibition and peopled it with several characters captivated by Marina’s performance.

Unfortunately I didn't form any connections with the characters and the decisions of the main character Levin grated on my nerves. The pace is slow, the characters introspective and not much really happens. I did give this literary novel the time and space it needed to take root, but it still failed to move me.

I also found the writing style a little jarring. We're given multiple character perspectives in what I presume to be the third person. However, there was also the occasional presence of what I think was an omniscient narrator. I had no idea 'who' this was supposed to be and it was never explained. Was this supposed to be an all-knowing muse? The 'muse' didn't seem to 'belong' to a specific character but hovered ghost-like over some parts of the novel without any rhyme or reason and certainly no resolution. Just to complicate matters, the ghost of Marina's mother also made several appearances in the novel.

The title of the book is presumably a play on the location of the exhibition (Museum of Modern Art) and this literary novel will appeal to readers with an interest in exploring the meaning of art and how performance art can impact an audience.

Reading a book long after the buzz has died down can be an advantage. I like to think I'm not influenced by awards hype or bestseller lists, and the fact that I didn't enjoy this book puts me squarely in the minority here. Distance from the hype can offer a different reading perspective and I wonder if some of the readers giving this 5 stars found themselves swept away by the meteoric rise of the book at the time. I just didn't get it.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

Would you like to comment?

  1. I really enjoyed this one! And yes, you're right, the omnipresent narrator was a muse. I know what you mean about hyped books and whether people really love them or not but for me, this was a winning read even if it hadn't been hyped. I loved it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad I was right about the muse and omnipresent narrator, that's something at least :-) Glad you loved this (I saw it was a 5 star read for you) but it just wasn't for me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sounds too pretentious for my tastes, not only the story but the inspiration as well.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's possible Shelleyrae, but I really am in the minority here. Most people loved this book. I think I'd have been better off reading an article about the installation The Artist is Present and then moving on.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!