Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives, Review: Spiky narrator
Impossible Views of the World is Lucy Ives’ witty, urbane, and sometimes shocking debut novel, set in a hallowed New York museum, in which a co-worker’s disappearance and a mysterious map change a life forever. Read our full review.
Impossible Views of the World Synopsis
Stella Krakus, a curator at Manhattan’s renowned Central Museum of Art, is having the roughest week in approximately ever. Her soon-to-be ex-husband (the perfectly awful Whit Ghiscolmbe) is stalking her, a workplace romance with “a fascinating, hyper-rational narcissist” is in freefall, and a beloved colleague, Paul, has gone missing. Strange things are afoot: CeMArt’s current exhibit is sponsored by a Belgian multinational that wants to take over the world’s water supply, she unwittingly stars in a viral video that’s making the rounds, and her mother–the imperious, impossibly glamorous Caro–wants to have lunch. It’s almost more than she can overanalyze.
But the appearance of a mysterious map, depicting a 19th-century utopian settlement, sends Stella – a dogged expert in American graphics and fluidomanie (don’t ask) – on an all-consuming research mission. As she teases out the links between a haunting poem, several unusual novels, a counterfeiting scheme, and one of the museum’s colorful early benefactors, she discovers the unbearable secret that Paul’s been keeping, and charts a course out of the chaos of her own life.
Pulsing with neurotic humour and dagger-sharp prose, Impossible Views of the World is a dazzling debut novel about how to make it through your early thirties with your brain and heart intact.
(Penguin Press, 1 August 2017)
Genre: Literature, Drama, Romance, Humour, Mystery
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With a penchant for quirky and sardonic narrators, and mystery fiction involving the art world, the synopsis for Impossible Views of the World called out to me.
Narrator and protagonist Stella is what some might call ‘spiky’, or to use vocabulary more in keeping with that employed by Ives, misanthropic. Some reviewers have opted for the word pretentious, and I can appreciate where they are coming from. The reality is that both this character and the free-wheeling, poetic style of prose with which Ives has given her life, will not be to everyone’s tastes.
But, I found Stella’s inner voice fascinating — a bouncing ball I was happy to follow just to see where it led. Her musings on life (both in the past and in the unavoidable here and now), whether that be romance, office politics or public transport, are either whimsically ethereal or deliciously snarky. What they are never is ‘run-of-the-mill’ or expected. This kept me, as a reader, on my toes… a challenge I enjoyed.
When something big happens and everyone acts as if they do not care, then this is the time at which you absolutely must begin paying close attention.
The mystery Stella ostensibly sets out to solve, while in turns fascinating and delightful, is secondary to what is essentially a character study or emotional journey.
In Stella’s mind, conversations are likened to games of chess, such is her observational acuity with regards to the body language, word choice and intonation employed by opponents. Her neuroses are well tended by her interactions with others inclined to opacity. But, more often than not, her most worthy opponent is herself. Beneath all the artistic and philosophical diversion, lies a heart that is broken, as simply as any other. In this sense, Impossible Views of the World is not a coming of age, but rather a ‘coming of life’ novel.
Fred seemed to take this remark seriously. He muttered, “ OK.” He was listening, part of him now like a boy who is receiving an explanation as to why sadistically stepping on small invertebrate creatures is an ethical bad move. He was treating me with strange awe, as if the manifestations of my affect were some species of delicious arctic fish that had to be shipped live from afar then meticulously gutted lest some slip of the blade render the flesh poisonous. I could tell he was drawing from this conversation not so much information about the state of whatever was transpiring between the two of us as “life lessons” to which he would later refer, as he moved on through the series of carefully coordinated events that would form the rest of his “life.”
In a similar vein to Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, Impossible Views of the World is recommended for readers with literary leanings, a love of language and wry humour.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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More Impossible Views of the World reviews
‘A diversion and a pleasure, this novel leaves you feeling smarter and hipper than you were before.’ – Kirkus Reviews
‘Ives’s prose and storytelling feel deliberately obtuse at times, requiring readers to slow down to fully immerse themselves in the narrative’s nuances, but the result is an odd and thoroughly satisfying novel.’ – Publisher’s Weekly
‘Stella is a deeply uncomfortable character, and reflects many of the emotionally cooler conventions of the artworld’s truly bourgeois side.’ – ArtReview
About the Author, Lucy Ives
Lucy Ives is the author of several books of poetry and short prose, including The Hermit and the novella nineties. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, Lapham’s Quarterly, and at newyorker.com. For five years she was an editor with the online magazine Triple Canopy. A graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. She teaches at the Pratt Institute and is currently editing a collection of writings by the artist Madeline Gins. Check out her website.
* My receiving a copy of this novel from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.