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The Archivist by Martha Cooley
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The Archivist (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Martha Cooley

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1,212None6,565 (3.45)25
Member:angstrat
Title:The Archivist
Authors:Martha Cooley
Info:Little Brown & Co (T) (1998), Edition: 1st ed, Hardcover
Collections:Your library, Books Owned, unedited
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Tags:fiction, librarians, ex-library, fiction owned, fown, fown

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The Archivist by Martha Cooley (1998)

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
This was a book about shifting personal realities, about the impossibility of understanding other people until it is too late, and about disillusionment. I found it depressing and difficult to read. It really wasn't about archives or T.S. Elliot, though both provided shading to the story's backdrop. It does provide an interesting glimpse into the lives and personal struggles of Jews (by both descent and faith) after the realities of World War 2 started to become known. I would not recommend this book to people who read for escape, but if you're interested in the many shades of grey within the human soul (my, doesn't that sound existential!), this might be a book for you. ( )
  Snukes | Jun 14, 2013 |
Recommended by Loel.
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
Matthias Lane, a reclusive widower in his 60's, is an archivist at a university library. The jewel of his collection is a set of letters that T. S. Eliot wrote to his friend Emily Hale over a 20-year period -- letters that Hale bequeathed to the library, provided that they be kept sealed until the year 2020. This is his story and that of his wife and family. Although The Archivist takes place on an intimate stage -- no more than two or three characters are typically present in a scene -- the narrative poses large questions. Should art and religion seek to console us for the world's evils or to sharpen our awareness of them? Where do we draw the line between our obligation to remember a terrible past and our desire to rid ourselves of its burdens? Once one has become aware of the existence of radical evil, how should one conduct one's life?
Most of the novel is narrated by Matthias, and with utter persuasiveness Cooley captures his cautious, scrupulous, restrained and intelligent voice. This is a brilliantly imagined tale of an archivist whose interest in T. S. Eliot and her family's history dovetail into a sad but fascinating story. Some of the best writing about mental issues that I have ever read. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jun 9, 2011 |
Spoilers, if it can be -- I was pretty disappointed in this book. It was hard to care. The characters didn't feel alive, and the dialogue wasn't well constructed when it was used for explication.
  franoscar | Mar 11, 2011 |
Wow ... the prose is gorgeous. The story is a little dense, a little intellectual, but simultaneously compelling. There are many excerpts of TS Eliot's poems, and I have only recently become slightly familiar with The Four Quartets, and I found the characters' intense devotion to Eliot's work illuminating. In the back of my mind, even though this story slightly pre-dates the life and struggles of Sylvia Plath, I see many parallels in the solace of poetry for those who wrestle with the truths of the world. ( )
  Lcwilson45 | Feb 21, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
I keep my countenance,

I remain self-possessed

Except when a street piano, mechanical and tired

Reiterates some worn-out common song

With the smell of hyacinths across the garden

Recalling things that other people have desired.

Are these ideas right or wrong?


   — T. S. Eliot, "Portrait of a Lady"
Dedication
In memory of my grandmother, ELEANOR STROTHER COOLEY (1886-1986), who read me poems
First words
With a little effort, anything can be shown to connect with anything else: existence is infinitely cross-referenced.
Quotations
As an archivist I have power over other people.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316158461, Paperback)

Matthias Lane is the proud gatekeeper to countless objects of desire, the greatest among them being T.S. Eliot's letters to Emily Hale. Now in his late 60s and archivist at an unnamed East Coast university, Matthias is--as one of his colleagues tells him--"exceptionally well defended." He's intent on keeping the Hale collection equally remote, and when a young poet first seeks access, Matthias rebuffs her with little difficulty. Still, Roberta Spire does remind him of his wife, Judith, who had also written poetry but had committed suicide 20 years earlier. And he is much taken with the student's self-possession: "Pleading never works with me," he concedes, "but authentic and angry self-interest does."

Betrayal figures heavily in The Archivist. For starters, Roberta feels betrayed by her parents, German Jews who had spent World War II in hiding and emigrated to the U.S. soon afterward, re-creating themselves as Christians. She has only recently discovered her Jewish background. The irony is that Matthias's wife had also been an Eliot adept and had felt violated by a false version of her own past and destroyed when confronted with the realities of the Holocaust. No wonder Roberta sees the Hale letters as a Holy Grail, the key to her questions about religious conversion and identity.

What holds this exceptionally ambitious and layered first novel together is the love all three main characters have for the pleasures of the text and the knowledge they share that time is, as Eliot writes, both preserver and destroyer. Eliot, after all, had wanted Emily Hale to destroy his letters (and in reality they are sealed until 2020, safe at Princeton University). Martha Cooley is deeply concerned, as are her characters, with questions of conscience, privacy, action and inaction, and security--personal and scholarly. If there is one parallel too many in this impressive work, perhaps that is more like life than some of us care to admit. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:29 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An aging librarian's memories are stirred by a young woman. The woman is researching her Jewishness after learning that her parents converted to Christianity. The librarian's wife, too, was a Jewess and she committed suicide, despairing of the Holocaust.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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