ALENA by Rachel Pastan

Book Quote:

“I guess you’re wondering why I’m telling you this.”

I shook my head. I knew why, even then, young as I was and afraid of her. I knew she was telling me because she had to tell me, showing me because she had to show someone. This room was her work as much as it was Alena’s. Alena might have made the room, but Agnes had conserved it—exhaustively, painstakingly—with all the care, patience, attention, exertion at her disposal. It was a task literally without end. Did the room exist if no one saw it? And if it didn’t exist, did Agnes?

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (MAR 6, 2014)

Alena is a novel about the art world and the people who inhabit it. It is said to be an homage to du Maurier’s Rebecca. However, not having read Rebecca in no way took anything away from my love of this novel. This novel stands on its own and I loved it.

The novel gets its name from the first curator of The Nauk, a private museum on the Cape in Massachusetts. For fifteen years, Alena held this position and gained a reputation of being bigger than life. She was headstrong, other-worldly, manipulative, dark, flirtatious, and intently involved in conceptual art, especially art that related to the human body. As time progressed her tastes became darker, leaning more and more towards the bloody, death-glorifying, and often gross renderings of the physical. As the novel opens, Alena has disappeared. She has been gone for two years and is presumed dead though her body has never been found. The prevailing belief is that she drowned by taking a swim in the ocean when the currents were too strong for her.

Bernard Augustin, Chair of the Board of the Nauk, goes to the Venice Biennale as he does every year. He is a well-known collector and figure in the art world. In Venice he hobnobs with the top tier art dealers, gallery owners and collectors. It is in Venice that he meets a young female curator from the midwest who is there with her controlling boss on her first visit abroad. (Interestingly, the name of this young curator is never provided in the book.) She meets Bernard by chance and is in awe of him and a bit in love as well despite the fact that he is gay. They hit it off intellectually and emotionally and on an impulse, Bernard offers her the position of curator at The Nauk. She accepts, not actually knowing what she is getting in to.

Once at the museum, the young curator is met with a staff that is still loyal to Alena and resentful of someone taking her place. Alena had promised the next show to a conceptual artist, a Gulf War veteran and multiple amputee who displays scenes of war with body parts and lots of blood. She, however, wants to decide on her own what the next show will be and she offers it to a ceramic artist who makes porcelain butterflies. The Nauk hasn’t had a show in two years and Bernard tells her that the show must be up in two months, by Labor Day. There is a lot of angst between the employees and the curator, and between the curator and the ceramist.

The ambiance of the novel is gothic and eerie. There are a lot of strange characters and happenings that serve to upset and off put the curator each time she attempts to accomplish something. Bernard is not there most of the time to ease the way in for her as he travels to his homes in New York, Colorado and Europe or else he’s attending art-related business far away.

The information about art is comprehensive. The author, Rachel Pastan, knows her conceptual art very well and her knowledge of art history is impressive. This book hooked me right away and I could not put it down. I resented anything that got in the way of my reading it; it was that good. So I present to you this review from a reader who has not read Rebecca but loves this novel as it stands on its own with no history or homage to any other piece of literature but solely to art.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 26 readers
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Hardcover (January 23, 2014)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt and another Excerpt




March 6, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Europe, NE & New York

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