Title: The Sunken Cathedral
Author: Kate Walbert
Publication Date: June 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.
In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert, a “wickedly smart, gorgeous writer” (The New York Times Book Review), explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now.
I want to start off by saying that the cover for this is quite stunning. The image of a city is distorted by water, the sunlight shinning through to the city below.There’s so much colour and movement, it’s very eye catching. The novel itself though, I struggled with a little bit. In it’s synopsis, it sounds like the perfect book for me. The story directs us to this small interconnected community of people: two frinds, a tenant, an art instructor. Their lives are so closely intertwined. They form friendships and connects with one another.
What I really loved about this book was the incorporation of footnotes. Footnotes are used so interestingly to provide metatextual information. They provide the narrators opinion, or an ancillary anecdote, or a tangent. Sometimes the footnotes take over the page, conquering and replacing the story for a moment or two. Often times the footnotes seem to recall memories or make comment on the current situation. The metatext fights to be heard and makes itself known over the bulk of the rest of the story. Sometimes it succeeds and completely eliminates the main body of the text from the page, claiming greater importance than the main text, even if for a brief second.
The story itself struggled to hold my attention. I would become emerged for a few pages, full engaged with the story and loving the characters, but the next I’d be straining to finish sentences and walking away from the book for a while only to come back and try again later. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was I struggled with. I generally enjoyed Walbert’s writing and her characters are compelling. She paints a portrait of life that is honest about grief and loss, as well as happiness and relationships.
Have you read Walberts latest book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.