The Life of Objects
By Susanna Moore
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307268433, 256pp.)
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
In 1938, seventeen-year-old Beatrice, an Irish Protestant lace maker, finds herself at the center of a fairy tale when she is whisked away from her dreary life to join the Berlin household of Felix and Dorothea Metzenburg. Art collectors, and friends to the most fascinating men and women in Europe, the Metzenburgs introduce Beatrice to a world in which she finds more to desire than she ever imagined.
But Germany has launched its campaign of aggression across Europe, and, before long, the conflict reaches the Metzenburgs’ threshold. Retreating with Beatrice to their country estate, Felix and Dorothea do their best to preserve the traditions of the old world. But the realities of hunger and illness, as well as the even graver threats of Nazi terror, the deportation and murder of Jews, and the hordes of refugees fleeing the advancing Red Army begin to threaten their existence. When the Metzenburgs are forced to join a growing population of men and women in hiding, Beatrice, increasingly attached to the family and its unlikely wartime community, bears heartrending witness to the atrocities of the age and to the human capacity for strength in the face of irrevocable loss.
In searing physical and emotional detail, The Life of Objects illuminates Beatrice’s journey from childhood to womanhood, from naïveté to wisdom, as a continent collapses into darkness around her. It is Susanna Moore’s most powerful and haunting novel yet.
Susanna Moore is the author of the novels The Big Girls, One Last Look, In the Cut, Sleeping Beauties, The Whiteness of Bones, and My Old Sweetheart, and two books of nonfiction, Light Years: A Girlhood in Hawai’i and I Myself Have Seen It: The Myth of Hawai’i. She lives in New York City.
“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