There are all kinds of books. The ones that make you cry, ones that feed you, ones that make you fall asleep, ones that make you travel. And then there are those elusive volumes, the ones that catch your eye with beautiful hand-drawings and soft texture that you find yourself buying without even opening them. And when you finally do, in that precise moment, you know it was meant to happen. You didn't find the book in that crowded bookshop, it found you.
The experience I describe above doesn't happen to me often; I've felt that sense of "revelatory grace", empathy, fulfillment, whatever you want to call it, with a couple of written pieces, some theatre plays (watched live) and one ballet. For some time now I'd been in a literary desert, unable to find any meaning* in between teenage novels (we all succumb to our vices) and a Spanish-English Dictionary (a girl needs help sometimes, ok?)
At this point, I found An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava. As I said, its external allure drew me in but its content was exponentially greater. As children, rather than filing our memories chronologically, we associate certain moments in time with places, foods, smells or objects, like the writer of this book. LaCava retells her eventful childhood, the move from America to France in a nostalgic, descriptive but also matter-of-fact manner, fluently narrating her encounters but also looking inwards into her own psyche. And for this very purpose, to make us fully understand how her mind works, she created a small encyclopedia inside her novel, giving you a brief but understanding knowledge of every single object which, to her, was linked to a memory; plants, insects, stones, archaeological findings....
To me, this unique structure is what made the book extraordinary and with such appeal to my senses. I was immersed in someone else's memoir and simultaneously feeding my voracious curiosity with historical and scientific facts. I admit this might not seem the most appealing scenario to many but for me, it was the perfect symbiosis.
Fashion writer Lavaca’s childhood and teenage years were strange and confounding. The author’s family moved from New York to a Parisian suburb in 1993 when she was 12; the next year she suffered a breakdown. Always considered a bit strange as a child, she found solace and a sense of order in collecting objects. She had a passion for ancient mythologies: “I was obsessed with cabinets of curiosities, historical efforts to catalog and control nature’s oddities,” Lacava writes.
As an adult Lacava began looking back over her life “through a narrative illuminated with objects and their respective stories.” As the author began researching her objects, she discovered unlikely links between them and “certain people who reappeared throughout the stories” of such objects as a skeleton key found in the backyard of her new home in France; a fiery antique opal necklace found on the sidewalk following a jaunt to a neighborhood sweet shop; a CD containing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; and the camera she always carried on her journeys around France.
“For me, it is my story of conquering another world, a place where in order to survive I needed to seek out wonder,” Lacava explains. In the end, this is an unusual journey through one girl’s material and sometimes painful interior world.
P.D You can read an interview with LaCava here
P.D 2 Buy the book here