Every day Marie dons her uniform, takes her seat and follows her ‘calling’: she is a guard at the National Gallery, watching over the collection lest any danger should befall it. Often on her mind is her great-grandfather Ted, a guard on the day when suffragette Mary Richardson extracted a meat cleaver from her sleeve and slashed a scar across the face of Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus in protest at the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst. Distractions from the monotony of observing art and people come rarely for Marie. Evenings and weekends signal the odd trip to Camden Lock with flatmate Jane, a takeaway with her friend, poet and fellow guard Daniel, or time to spend constructing her own artwork, landscapes made of eggshells and dead moths. A trip to Paris with Daniel eventually promises excitement, but the arrival of an unexpected guest thwarts Marie’s prospects of escaping lonely tedium.
The follow-up to Aridjis’s acclaimed debut, Book of Clouds (2009), Asunder is lyrical and intense. We enter the mind of Marie, who has ‘always been more interested in being than becoming’ and who suits the introspective life of a guard well. Marie’s mission is to maintain order: she must detect