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2017 - Winner
In a now semi-famous aphorism, mid-century French philosopher Simone Weil called attention ‘the rarest and purest form of generosity’, and more than the spirit of that observation inhabits Heather Rose’s deeply striking seventh novel. Initially centred on Arky, a composer for film, The Museum of Modern Love deftly orchestrates a range of characters including the US-Serbian artist Marina Abramović. In Abramović’s 2010 work The Artist Is Present, people were invited to sit silently in a chair directly across from her in order to share each other’s gaze. This is pivotal for a novel deeply concerned with the expansiveness of attention and the limits of responsibility.
The narrator’s voice gives the novel a quiet power, as if the universe was filled with a non-meddling benevolence. There’s a cinematic quality too, with even minor figures sketched in with sure and affecting touches. The Museum of Modern Love is alive with the surprise and challenge of presence in many of its forms — it is a very generous book indeed.
Images and storytelling have been intertwined since the first human beings gathered by a painted wall to tell tales in the firelight. Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love works with these ancient ghosts with exquisite care and intelligence. Positing grief and art as deep echoes that corroborate the transitory nature of our lives, Rose brings the reader to a place of acceptance despite the inevitable darkness. With rare subtlety and humanity, this novel relocates the difficult path to wonder in us all.