Friday 10 April 2020

Book Review: Natural History by Carlos Fonseca (Literary Fiction)

Title: Natural History
Author: Carlos Fonseca
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: 14 July 2020
eBook - EPUB
Literary Fiction
ARC via NetGalley


Just before the dawn of the new millennium, a curator at a New Jersey museum of natural history receives an unusual invitation from a celebrated fashion designer. She shares the curator's fascination with the hidden forms of the animal kingdom—with camouflage and subterfuge—and she proposes that they collaborate on an exhibition, the form of which itself remains largely obscure, even as they enter into a strange relationship marked by evasion and elision.

Seven years later, after the death of the designer, the curator recovers the archive of their never-completed project. During a long night of insomnia, he finds within the archive a series of clues to the true story of the designer’s family, a mind-bending puzzle that winds from Haifa, Israel, to bohemian 1970s New York to the Latin American jungle. On the way, he discovers a cast of characters whose own fixations interrogate the unstable frontiers between art, science, politics, and religion: an aging photographer, living nearly alone in an abandoned mining town where subterranean fires rage without end, who creates models of ruined cities; a former model turned conceptual artist—and a defendant in a trial over the very nature and purpose of art; a young indigenous boy who has received a vision of the end of the world. Reality is a curtain, as the curator realizes, and to draw it back is to reveal the theater of obsession. 

Natural History was an interesting read, but it is a difficult book to review. First off, let me share what I loved about it. The prose was a delight to read, so lyrical and dreamlike. The text was chock full of lines you wanted to remember and quote--utterly beautiful writing. I also appreciated many of the themes and ideas presented through the story; Fonseca had some interesting things to say. However, despite these positives, I found it hard to connect with the book on any level other than admiration for the author's style and turn of phrase. I never came to care deeply for any of the characters. Nor did I have any special interest in the plot and what was happening outside of the aesthetic. In some ways, I think the gorgeous writing and literary adeptness overshadowed the story itself, which was a shame. If Fonseca had been able to better balance the two, I think this could have been stunning. As it is, I am giving it 3.5 stars. I liked it and I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it, but I couldn't fall in love with it aside from appreciating Fonseca's skill as a writer.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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