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Aurelia, Aurélia: A Memoir

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Aurelia, Aurélia begins on a boat. The author, sixteen years old, is traveling to Europe at an age when one can “try on personae like dresses.” She has the confidence of a teenager cultivating her earliest obsessions—Woolf, Durrell, Bergman—sure of her maturity, sure of the life that awaits her. Soon she finds herself in a Greece far drearier than the Greece of fantasy, “c Aurelia, Aurélia begins on a boat. The author, sixteen years old, is traveling to Europe at an age when one can “try on personae like dresses.” She has the confidence of a teenager cultivating her earliest obsessions—Woolf, Durrell, Bergman—sure of her maturity, sure of the life that awaits her. Soon she finds herself in a Greece far drearier than the Greece of fantasy, “climbing up and down the steep paths every morning with the real old women, looking for kindling.” Kathryn Davis’s hypnotic new book is a meditation on the way imagination shapes life, and how life, as it moves forward, shapes imagination. At its center is the death of her husband, Eric. The book unfolds as a study of their marriage, its deep joys and stinging frustrations; it is also a book about time, the inexorable events that determine beginnings and endings. The preoccupations that mark Davis’s fiction are recognizable here—fateful voyages, an intense sense of place, the unexpected union of the magical and the real—but the vehicle itself is utterly new. Aurelia, Aurélia explodes the conventional bounds of memoir. It is an astonishing accomplishment.


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Aurelia, Aurélia begins on a boat. The author, sixteen years old, is traveling to Europe at an age when one can “try on personae like dresses.” She has the confidence of a teenager cultivating her earliest obsessions—Woolf, Durrell, Bergman—sure of her maturity, sure of the life that awaits her. Soon she finds herself in a Greece far drearier than the Greece of fantasy, “c Aurelia, Aurélia begins on a boat. The author, sixteen years old, is traveling to Europe at an age when one can “try on personae like dresses.” She has the confidence of a teenager cultivating her earliest obsessions—Woolf, Durrell, Bergman—sure of her maturity, sure of the life that awaits her. Soon she finds herself in a Greece far drearier than the Greece of fantasy, “climbing up and down the steep paths every morning with the real old women, looking for kindling.” Kathryn Davis’s hypnotic new book is a meditation on the way imagination shapes life, and how life, as it moves forward, shapes imagination. At its center is the death of her husband, Eric. The book unfolds as a study of their marriage, its deep joys and stinging frustrations; it is also a book about time, the inexorable events that determine beginnings and endings. The preoccupations that mark Davis’s fiction are recognizable here—fateful voyages, an intense sense of place, the unexpected union of the magical and the real—but the vehicle itself is utterly new. Aurelia, Aurélia explodes the conventional bounds of memoir. It is an astonishing accomplishment.

30 review for Aurelia, Aurélia: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Vivek Tejuja

    Aurelia, Aurélia is a memoir that is sporadic, all over the place, doesn’t make sense sometimes, but so rewarding from the first page. It is also quite random, but the writing charms you, beguiles you, and makes you stay. I haven’t read much by Davis. I think only one book in the past, Duplex which I immensely enjoyed, so I definitely had to read this one. This book is a memoir – about the death of Davis’s beloved husband, Eric. It is about grief, its contradictions, shuffles between time – from Aurelia, Aurélia is a memoir that is sporadic, all over the place, doesn’t make sense sometimes, but so rewarding from the first page. It is also quite random, but the writing charms you, beguiles you, and makes you stay. I haven’t read much by Davis. I think only one book in the past, Duplex which I immensely enjoyed, so I definitely had to read this one. This book is a memoir – about the death of Davis’s beloved husband, Eric. It is about grief, its contradictions, shuffles between time – from when Davis was sixteen to present-day to recent past to the reader’s some present-day making sense of all the profundity packed into such a short book, one hundred and eight pages long. This memoir just like her novel is wonderfully strange, turning grief into a universal emotion from a personal one, and to then talk about her cultural preoccupations and interests – from Hans Christian Andersen to the movie, The Seventh Seal, to Beethoven’s Bagatelles, and Virginia Woolf’s, To the Lighthouse. Aurelia, Aurélia was read slowly by me, and I think that is the way to read it. I might even get back to it again before the year ends, just to also make sense of some of the writing. I loved the last chapter of the book the most – the part when Davis explains the book’s title, and how it all ties in with the core of the book. Aurelia, Aurélia is a book about memories- disjointed ones, about a couple and their life together, about being alone (though not so explicitly), and haunting, inviting you to make sense of the limitless connections, and the knotty and most complex way of grief.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Murphy

    Stunning prose reminiscent of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    “We were somewhere between where we started and where we thought we were going. Did the place even have a name?”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan Ritz

    I have been a Kathryn Davis fan for many years. This memoir is the perfect vehicle for her well-stocked, fantastical brain. Davis is the queen of transition, sliding from death to music to philosophy to childhood all within a page. Sometimes in a paragraph. We lucky readers go right along with her, trusting that the story she is weaving will change the way we understand narrative, time, and memory. Pick up this book and enter a magical realm. Balm for the grieving heart.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

    An extraordinary memoir on grief written in a nonlinear style as grief itself is not linear. The prose is stunning.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Stephens

    “What seems to me the highest and the most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, or to rouse our lust or our anger, but to do as nature does-to set us dreaming”. Gustave Flaubert Not sure I can describe this little memoir other than to say that it is dreamy. Beethoven, and snippets of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales are interspersed with the death of Davis’ husband, a poorly planned camping trip, and other memories. I think that’s how your memories come back to you, in “What seems to me the highest and the most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, or to rouse our lust or our anger, but to do as nature does-to set us dreaming”. Gustave Flaubert Not sure I can describe this little memoir other than to say that it is dreamy. Beethoven, and snippets of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales are interspersed with the death of Davis’ husband, a poorly planned camping trip, and other memories. I think that’s how your memories come back to you, in those little pieces. And I guess I was entranced for a bit by Davis’ little pieces.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn DeCarlo

    An insightful and beautiful memoir from a favourite writer of mine. The thought processes, the switches in place and time, are reminiscent of her style of fiction writing, but perhaps more coherent, more pared back, more closely linked. But just as full of imagination and intelligence, and much closer to the voice of Kathryn Davis and not a third person narrator. Whereas what I’ve read of Kathryn’s fiction is often nearly omniscient in scope, here we have a particular limited point of view, in s An insightful and beautiful memoir from a favourite writer of mine. The thought processes, the switches in place and time, are reminiscent of her style of fiction writing, but perhaps more coherent, more pared back, more closely linked. But just as full of imagination and intelligence, and much closer to the voice of Kathryn Davis and not a third person narrator. Whereas what I’ve read of Kathryn’s fiction is often nearly omniscient in scope, here we have a particular limited point of view, in speculation and observation, contending with grief and time and everything the world has to shove down our mouths. There is a moment I loved where Kathryn describes the feeling of her own mortality as she sees and predicts her parents’ passing, which spoke so much to how I see time and my own brief human life. This book is made up of a series of brief vignettes, and has a vigor I crave from non-fiction. If I were teaching a class on creative non-fiction, this would be on the syllabus.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    gorgeous and delicate. engages with other texts in a way that feels both associative and intentional, improvised and inevitable. structurally unique in an understated way. man. just really fuckin beautiful. "And then the road bent left. 'I had seen people turn pale before, but I had never seen blood leave skin so thoroughly and so fast,' the book went on to say. I dreamed I was picking red flowers. To the right, a large tree of some kind beginning to leaf out, one gray asbestos wall of the genera gorgeous and delicate. engages with other texts in a way that feels both associative and intentional, improvised and inevitable. structurally unique in an understated way. man. just really fuckin beautiful. "And then the road bent left. 'I had seen people turn pale before, but I had never seen blood leave skin so thoroughly and so fast,' the book went on to say. I dreamed I was picking red flowers. To the right, a large tree of some kind beginning to leaf out, one gray asbestos wall of the general store visible behind it. We had just met. By summer the green Valvine advertisement no longer in view. The eyes staring fixedly without blinking. The scaling of the mountain of the elements. Place the wrist at the point between the eyebrows. The arm so thin as to be a line and then it was gone."

  9. 4 out of 5

    jsg

    Good to the last drop. Uncategorizable.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Angela Woodward

    It's hard to describe how a narrative so disparate can cohere. Davis moves through slivers of scenes--the author aboard a ship, climbing a hill in Greece, singing with her dying father--as well as brief discourses on Virginia Woolf, "The Seventh Seal," a wonderful section on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, all sort of thrown together and drifting. A sensibility infuses the whole endeavor, so these fragments float near each other in an approximate, airy formation. Each element drives It's hard to describe how a narrative so disparate can cohere. Davis moves through slivers of scenes--the author aboard a ship, climbing a hill in Greece, singing with her dying father--as well as brief discourses on Virginia Woolf, "The Seventh Seal," a wonderful section on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, all sort of thrown together and drifting. A sensibility infuses the whole endeavor, so these fragments float near each other in an approximate, airy formation. Each element drives at the question, how can we stand to be alive, knowing we'll lose it all? An affecting and intelligent memoir.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patrick King

    “To prognosticate is to look into the future, a place, assuming it exists, I’ve never been all that keen on. One day my father took me into the cellar, pulled open a drawer in his workbench, and extracted a gun. He wanted me to promise that if at any time in the future he lost all his faculties, I’d put him out of his misery.” Grief by association—ghost stories, sense memory recall, poetry, meditations on the moment. We follow Kathryn Davis through her mind, we spring with her from recent past to “To prognosticate is to look into the future, a place, assuming it exists, I’ve never been all that keen on. One day my father took me into the cellar, pulled open a drawer in his workbench, and extracted a gun. He wanted me to promise that if at any time in the future he lost all his faculties, I’d put him out of his misery.” Grief by association—ghost stories, sense memory recall, poetry, meditations on the moment. We follow Kathryn Davis through her mind, we spring with her from recent past to former lives, pausing here and there to fill in details. Between memories of youth and musings on literature and something between a dream and an allegory, we get glimpses of life with her husband. These glimpses accumulate slowly and we’re left with passing phrases, “But you don’t have to leave the house, I said. You could haunt it.” Trying to preempt the inevitable grief. There are also just breathtaking renderings of the feeling of being young, channelling past anxieties to relate to current situations: “In 1956 my job was to keep vigil over the night sky for the plane that was carrying the bomb that was going to turn us all to bone and then to ash and then to nothing.” I think the shortness of the book allows for an easy revisit, to peel back another layer of meaning.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Davis always surprises me with her originality, with how she plays with time & expectations for storytelling. Pivoting around her husband’s death, this very slender memoir moves through transitional moments, fragments of her life which seem so disparate, but are threaded together gracefully. She quotes extensively from other authors, weaving their words into her story so skillfully that it never feels like filler. This is an unsentimental, but no less moving meditation on death, grief, the stran Davis always surprises me with her originality, with how she plays with time & expectations for storytelling. Pivoting around her husband’s death, this very slender memoir moves through transitional moments, fragments of her life which seem so disparate, but are threaded together gracefully. She quotes extensively from other authors, weaving their words into her story so skillfully that it never feels like filler. This is an unsentimental, but no less moving meditation on death, grief, the strangeness of memory, how literature embeds itself in our psyches & the astonishing brevity of life. This writing transcends something & it is beautiful. "That's all you get," my husband cautioned on his deathbed. "The ripple is what we live on, and we get to pull up one ripple of the water the way cars create a vacuum as they race around a track like clamshells. That's all you get, a ripple, a little bitty thing, a wave, because the world is so huge, you just get to use it for a little while."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I love Davis’ fiction. It is quite interesting to watch the author place snippets of her life in a memoir, but for it all to feel so much like her fictions. As if a dream of her fiction. It doesn’t always work for me. There are bits that feel a little flat, too personal, or not personal at all. What are we doing with these details? Just recognizing the way we’ve been influenced, inspired, and lost by the art we read/hear/see? Maybe I need to revisit this one later in life. Some books I read and t I love Davis’ fiction. It is quite interesting to watch the author place snippets of her life in a memoir, but for it all to feel so much like her fictions. As if a dream of her fiction. It doesn’t always work for me. There are bits that feel a little flat, too personal, or not personal at all. What are we doing with these details? Just recognizing the way we’ve been influenced, inspired, and lost by the art we read/hear/see? Maybe I need to revisit this one later in life. Some books I read and think “I need more years before I appreciate what is happening here.” Hopefully I get the chance to sit down with this one again- in a distant future.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Claire Osgood

    This memoir was unlike any other I ever read. It was terribly disjointed and therefore confusing to this reader. Actually, I could not continue reading beyond the first third of the book. It had so many references to books that I read in my 1964-1971 English classes that my head was spinning. The author is obviously a deep thinker, applying her observations to each referenced book. Probably her previous readers would like such a memoir. However it is mystifying to me why this would be the case.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cate

    I thought I could not love Kathryn Davis’ writing more, but then I read this. Davis is telling the story of losing her husband to cancer, of what it was like to be a teenager on a boat heading to Europe, of living as an adult, of life at home growing up, her husband, their pet dog, her love of Virginia Woolf, all of it jumbled from one thought to the next. It makes perfect sense. It is profound, it it beautiful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Wall

    Memoir and encomium for deceased husband with memories and thoughts of authors life and marriage, etc. Memorable "What seems to be the highest and most difficult achievement of art is not to make us laugh or cry, not to arouse our lust or rage, but to do what nature does -- to set us dreaming," said Gustave Flaubert. p. 100 Worthy memorial Memoir and encomium for deceased husband with memories and thoughts of authors life and marriage, etc. Memorable "What seems to be the highest and most difficult achievement of art is not to make us laugh or cry, not to arouse our lust or rage, but to do what nature does -- to set us dreaming," said Gustave Flaubert. p. 100 Worthy memorial

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kim Gausepohl

    This book is smarter than me. I had to google unfamiliar vocabulary/French writers and read each essay twice, but that actually made it more fun because it became an interactive experience. This memoir in essays has everything: a clear through line, patterning, structure, research, voice. This book is a delightful surprise.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Featherbooks

    Poignant, funny, literary. Hypnotic says the jacket, I read it in one sitting under the spell of the writing, the story, the fairy tales, dogs, music, and literature references. And then I turned to the front to start it again. Not linear but realistic in the snippets of unexpected flashes that accompany grieving and memory.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patsy

    At times astonishing prose written after the death of her husband, Aurelia, Aurelia is the first book I believe I’ve read by Kathryn Davis. It is a fragile and quiet memoir, nonlinear and somehow deeply moving. A work that could be re-read in part or whole if only to visit its tone and atmosphere. Some details are pedestrian, others esoteric: dogs and Durrell.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Martin

    Audible

  21. 4 out of 5

    Scottie Brower

    What a gem.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott Kraus

    Life is a transition itself. This book is short, read it in a day. It's light, like witnessing an illusion and deciding not to dissect it, or figure it out. Life is a transition itself. This book is short, read it in a day. It's light, like witnessing an illusion and deciding not to dissect it, or figure it out.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eleanore

    “When someone you have lived with for a very long time dies, memory stops working it’s regular way - it goes crazy. It is no longer like remembering; it is often, like astral projection.”

  24. 4 out of 5

    Wyatt

    “A mysterious transaction was about to take place: something rote was about to become something alive. This is how the associative moment occurs.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    DNF

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tessy Consentino

    What a beautiful memoir!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    There is some gorgeous writing in this memoir of grief.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shane

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