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Many years ago, I heard Susanna Moore read from her terrifying novel In the Cut. I was riveted by her voice as slowly, steadily, and with unflinching surety, she read aloud the snuffing of a character’s life. As she neared the end, the entire bookstore forgot to breathe. Moore, performing a high wire act if ever there was one, led us coolly but with great sympathy into a world of darkness.
She was, that night, our Beatrice into Hell, and her new novel, The Life of Objects, offers another Beatrice leading us into the specific and largely untold story of the hell endured by the civilian German population caught in World War II. You may think you’ve read all there is to read about this war, but you will not have read anything like this.
“My name is Beatrice Adelaide Palmer,” the novel begins. “I was born in 1921 in Ballycarra, County Mayo, the only child of Elizabeth Givens and Morris Palmer of Palmerston.” Like Jane Eyre, or the heroines of Dickens or Trollope (whom this Beatrice reads avidly), Beatrice Palmer yearns past the borders of her life, into a wider world than her Irish village. And when a beautiful Countess notices Beatrice’s lace handiwork at a ball, and proposes to whisk her away to Berlin to visit her friends the Metzenburgs, possessed of a great house and “the best manners in Europe,” it seems this Beatrice has been touched by fortune. The year is 1938.
When the Countess and Beatrice arrive in Berlin, they discover that the Metzenburgs are in flight to their estate in the country, and though Beatrice is free to return to Ireland, she chooses to join the household as a lacemaker. She stays with them through the war’s beginnings, its long years, and its destructive end—when the Russian Army, murderous, vengeful, and random in its cruel attention, sweeps through the countryside.
Like A Woman in Berlin, this novel describes the horror of being caught in the web of indifferent historical forces. But what is new here, and the source of its power, is the ignorance and simplicity of its young narrator. Beatrice’s unsentimental, precise account of what happens in the last days of the war renders the horrible even more unfathomable. We know with the hindsight of history what it means when a beloved schoolteacher has vanished, or when an American soldier appears in the woods. But in Beatrice’s telling, she does not. And so the war begins to seem like something out of one of Grimm’s horrors. With the force of a folktale, The Life of Objects got me in its grip and has not let me go.
This descriptive and poetic narrative delivers a tale of coming of age, of longing, of finding one’s place in life and of the desolation of a country ripped apart by war. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
The enjoyment of this book equals the disturbance and cruelty of war. The characters are very vivid as is the description of the era.Published 4 months ago by LU WHO
Another glorious literary novel. Look around you at your home. There are objects there that represent who you are. That's why we keep objects, because they become subjects.Published 7 months ago by unsworthyeti
The novel opens with Beatrice, a young girl living in rural Ireland, discovering that her circumscribed life as the daughter of two self-contained and distant parents, can be... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Michele DeJong Kaiser
This story is all over the place. The first disc was interesting when the main character Beatrice is introduced but then there is a loss of time when Beatrice arrives in... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Eden Elizabeth
This story is well written - there just isn't much of a story. It starts out okay but there doesn't seem to be a climax or an end and that was disappointing. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Biddy Mulligan
The story of a young Irish teen seeking adventure is well told. Life in Nazi Germany during and after the war is historically engaging. Read morePublished 11 months ago by C. Raudenbush
A naïve Irish girl is invited to go to Germany to make lace for a wealthy family.
Caught up in the war, the family must either leave the country or go to their
country... Read more
I succumbed to some very positive reviews of "The Life of Objects," including a cover blurb by Joan Didion, much of whose writing fascinates me - even when imperfect. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Robert B. Lamm