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The Life of Objects Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 18, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Guest Review: Sarah Blake on The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore
Sarah Blake is the author of the novels Grange House, and The Postmistress, a New York Times Bestseller and winner of South Africa's Boeke Prize.

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.


“A frightening and wholly convincing evocation of life in Germany during the twilight of the Third Reich.” —J. M. Coetzee
“I find this book exhilarating—truly exciting, new, everything good—the people, the clothes, the food: every word.” —Joan Didion
“This is a deceptively simple novel that manages that uncanny trick of great fiction: turning the familiar (ambitious provincial girl, World War II, glamorous aristocrats) into a thrilling, enchanting story you’ve never encountered before. Imagine Downton Abbey crossed with In the Garden of Beasts as fashioned by a literary master at the peak of her powers.” —Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers
“In The Life of Objects, Susanna Moore tells the story of a young woman’s initiation into the worlds of beauty, suffering, cynicism, and grace. What astounds me about this work is its ability to attend with equal fidelity to the quiet nuances of self-discovery and the deceptions and depravities of World War II. This is a lyrical and courageous book.” —Tracy K. Smith, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
The Life of Objects isn’t long but it gives the full sweep of the Nazi reign and the Soviet occupation. Its details are so convincing, it reads like a memoir not a novel—a magnificent achievement.” —Edmund White
“I hadn’t realized that the lives led by people in the camps had a shadow existence outside the fences, that people were constantly faced with the chance to step one way or the other so that the person next to them would be chosen instead, and that forever after they had to bear their choice. Treachery one wants to call it, but it isn’t so simple. Some of the details and evocations of the house and the landscape and the habits of the connoisseur and the self are so striking that at times I had the feeling I was reading a memoir, something like Edmund Gosse, where the writer is trying to keep his head among belligerent circumstances, or, on the other hand, fiction like Samuel Butler’s. The writing in places is close to a standard that is nearly flawless. So much can happen in a sentence, by such slight (to the reader) but rigorous and elegant means. I nearly gasped at some parts. And there is something gravely and humanly funny about others.” —Alec Wilkinson, author of The Ice Balloon
The Life of Objects is absolutely gripping in the precision of its wartime narrative, and chilling in its evocation of a fidelity to the sensuality of this world in the face of the most deeply cynical of the world’s capacities.  This extraordinary novel speaks to class, emigration and tragedy in our time as devastatingly as Buddenbrooks spoke to Thomas Mann’s own young century.” —Susan Wheeler, winner of the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts & Letters
“A marvelous book, devastating in its simplicity. It’s a beautifully controlled examination of a life stripped, like a body in wartime, of inessentials. I love the fact that kindness—though not sentimentality—turns out to be an essential. But for me the heart of the matter is Moore’s language: as strong as plainchant, and as beautiful.” —Nicola Griffith, author of The Blue Place and Ammonite


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 239 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268433
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By N. B. Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Beatrice Palmer, a young woman in the west of Ireland, is bored with her constricting life as a shop girl in her family's haberdashery. Her life offers no possibilities until a glamorous countess comes along and whisks her away to a life of privilege in the wealthy household of the Metzenburg family in Germany. She imagines herself the lucky girl living a fairy tale life: "I, who'd been properly bewitched, was accompanying her to a distant kingdom where I would live in an enchanted forest and spin flax into gold."

Unfortunately, the year is 1938, Hitler is on the rise and World War II looms on the near horizon. When it becomes clear that war is inevitable, Beatrice has the option to return home, but her desire to live a larger life keeps her loyal to Felix and Dorothea Metzenburg.

Many stories of impending war center on people who either don't know or can't let themselves believe the consequences of staying. Ms. Moore's story is unusual in that the Metzenburgs (in particular, Felix) understand the consequences and yet decide to remain and face what is to come. For Felix, it isn't a loyalty to his country or a particular attraction to his estate (it's his wife's ancestral home). Instead, it's a soul-deep connection to his objects, his "treasure" as the family calls it. He stays to protect his priceless collection of art, antiques, jewelry and porcelain. These objects are in essence his identity; he has no desire to live in a world without their beauty.

For varying reasons, everyone decides to stay, even those who have the means of escape: Beatrice, because she wants no other life; household servants, out of loyalty to their employers; Dorothea, out of love for her husband.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In 1938, Beatrice Palmer is willingly seduced away from her home in Ireland by self-styled Countess Hartenfels' promise to introduce her to a German woman who would be enchanted by Beatrice's skill in sewing lace. Using the name Maeve, Beatrice joins Herr Felix Metzenburg and his wife Dorothea at their home thinking to work as a seamstress creating lace enhancements for Dorothea. She soon finds that her role is more that of a poor relation working as a servant in their odd household.
The Life of Objects follows Beatrice (Maeve) and the Metzenburgs as they struggle to survive through World War II, first in Berlin, the later at the Metzenburgs country estate. It soon becomes apparent that Herr Felix is suspicious of the new Nazi government. As the war begins, he slowly moves his treasured paintings, Dorothea's jewelry, and much of their silver into hiding places around the estate. He simultaneously tries to help the local villagers, refugees from Poland and Eastern Europe, and wounded or deserting German soldiers while maintaining some semblance of family.
The story offers up many of the well-known atrocities against Jews, homosexuals, and opponents of Hitler's regime through the eyes of the Metzenburg's extended family. They live under the threat of death by their fellow Germans - Gestapo and SS - as well as from the nightly bombing raids across the countryside. Murder, rape, suicide, and destruction are described in some detail.
But I could never connect with either Beatrice or the events described. Somehow, I felt no involvement with the story. I am accustomed to my slowly (or, occasionally, quickly) rising adrenaline levels as I read a good mystery or suspense story - but nothing happened as I read The Life of Objects. While the book seems well-written and reads easily, something is missing.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An astonishing literary work of emotion & character. There is a desperate sadness associated with war and it seeps from these pages into its readers. VORZUGLICH (exquisite). Captivating intrigue.

What would it have been like to survive WWII on the home front of Berlin? How does a survivor of `ground zero' for a losing country change over wartime? Everyday life's struggles/joys; tragedy; atrocity; fear; all mixed with the common denominator of a humanness desire to survive (at least for some.)

"The Life of Objects", a seven-year, dark, gritty saga of Germany home front wartime survival, is a riches-to-rags epic. Post-war society fell into class levels associated with the extent of a family`s suffering. Then the Russian Berlin Sector became a socialist colony. This relatively short book packs all that into the pages. Characters of mixed religion and nationality unite to survive the hellish days of WWII.

Upon concluding the final page I felt strangely rewarded for having read; heart-sick for the survivors (even knowing them fictional), and again personally changed by WW2. A good book for war readers and history lovers. Certainly a look from a new perspective.

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Format: Hardcover
I do not recall reading anything before where the ironic outcomes of war are so beautifully drawn: the liberators (the Russians) are worse than the enemy, survivors of the war are as good as dead, and valuable possessions (The Life of Objects?) have uncertain value and maybe no value at all. This is a beautiful rendering of how fragile our lives are, especially when war is the backdrop. Yet (ironically, again) the aftermath of war is somehow worse, and even more fragile. Everything has changed. What to do now? Where to go?

Beautiful writing, beautiful metaphor, beautiful characters.
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