An extraordinary look at two ordinary lives

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

This book deserves to win prizes for its concept which is totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen (or read) before.  It’s the story of a relationship from start to finish, but presented in the form of an auction catalogue of the couple’s ‘stuff’ – so original, so clever, but does it work?

Lenore is a food writer for a New York newspaper, Harold is a photographer. They meet at a Halloween party, fall in and ultimately, out of love.  They’re the sort of couple who are always taking photos of themselves, individually or setting the timer and posing.  They write notes too – from post-it reminders on the fridge, to endearments tucked into things, to letters expressing love, frustration, anger …

Their life together is represented by 325 lots, comprising many of their photos, notes, and other ephemera (I love that word!), as well as books, knick-knacks and household items. Most are illustrated; the accompanying text gives the physical details of the lots including condition reports plus an estimate – just like in a real auction catalogue, there is no further elaboration.

It was fascinating to see what was going to come up next, but I found this book so frustrating. I mean, who (except the owner’s mother), would ever consider bidding for a lot of three oven gloves, two of which were well worn, estimate $20-$45, unless they were from the top celebrity chef du jour?  This couple may have been well-known within their professional circles, but outside that, who would go to an auction of their cast-offs?  It was this juxtaposition of fantasy versus reality that partially put me off.  It also smacks of doing one’s dirty washing in public – we can celebrate the couple’s initial euphoria of being in love with them without being too voyeuristic, but by the time their relationship started to fade, my interest did rather too as I didn’t want to intrude.

I may have been underwhelmed by this unusual romance, but that’s just me.  Simon at Savidge Reads loved it and you may do too… Has anyone else ‘read’ it? I bought this book (6/10).


7 thoughts on “An extraordinary look at two ordinary lives

  1. Part of me says ‘no’ it’s not my type of thing. But the other part, the nosy ex- reporter part, is definitely intrigued. I might have to see if it turns up in an book shop so I can have a look at it as I suspect that the library will not be getting a copy!

    • Liz – I’ll send you my copy, as it’s not a keeper for me. Then you can pass it on to someone else!

  2. Its a blinking long title isnt it!!! I did enjoy this but weirdly it hasn’t ‘lasted’ in my brain, I know that probably sounds really odd. I am now giving myself much more space between reviewing a book and having read it so it has time to settle or develop in my brain. You know how some books you kinda liked become the ones that grow on you in time and others you initially love and get really excited about and yet fade!

  3. I’d bought it before your review as I’d seen it around and was intrigued, but it was too much high concept and not enough content for me (and I do have a high quirk tolerance)!

  4. Fascinating daring idea – I am always swayed by the grandeur of these high-concept things, and then proportionately let down when they fail to deliver. I suppose if you have a truly interesting and unique idea for a book, it must be hard to force your mind to work out the mechanics of it.

    • Also you did wonder what happened to the couple after they split up, the only hint is a little note at the beginning from Harold asking how Lenore is, as he’s split up from his latest girlfriend. Knowing this was the only thing that stopped me wondering if they were both dead – I say this because if I were alive, I’d keep my collection of 18 fancy bras instead of auctioning them off!!!

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