Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry – Leanne Shapton

(I think the above wins the prize for longest post title in Multiverse history.)

A while ago I ordered Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton (from now on referred to as Important Artifacts…) from Hodges Figgis. When I went in to collect the book I was a bit thrown. I had been expecting an unusual novel, not structured in the traditional way, but I suppose I didn’t fully understand that this book is exactly like an auction catalogue, more like a graphic novel in that there didn’t seem to be much reading in it, and so I came away a bit disappointed.

However I am a fool! I read the book over the weekend and ended up delighted that I bought it. Yes, it’s filled with pictures and very few words and at first glance it seems like the kind of book you’d skip through in an hour. But in fact when you settle down to read it, pore over each description and the accompanying photographs, you realise that Shapton has created an entirely unique book which tells a love story in a remarkable way.

There are a total of 325 lots in the catalogue and they chart the course of Doolan and Morris’ relationship, from the moment the couple first met to the end. The lots are comprised of seemingly worthless items like Post-It notes and birthday cards to more traditional auction fare like jewellery and furniture. For example: Lot number 1005 is the first known photograph of the couple together, in costume as they met at a Halloween party. Lot 1012 is a group of six Polaroids of Doolan trying on various outfits, in preparation for her first date with Morris. Lot 1105 is a handwritten list by Doolan of pros and cons, clearly assessing the potential of the relationship before it really gets underway. Lot 1190 is a silver plated cup used by the couple to hold their toothbrushes, so we see that they moved in together. Lot 1253 is a birthday present and note which Doolan wrote to Morris and from the content we can see that their relationship is floundering. And on it goes…

The picture that emerges from all this ephemera is that of a relationship which starts out tender and loving but slowly dissolves as a result of the same problems that break up many couples: career responsibilities, differing goals, differing ideas about where the relationship is headed and how they’re going to get there.

To do something different in literature, to create something original which gives jaded readers pause, is a rare enough feat. Shapton has done exactly this and I’m now curious to read some of her other work (you can find out more about her on her website) to find out what other tricks she has up her sleeve. Important Artifacts was first published in 2009 and was optioned for a film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman (which obviously has yet to happen but sounds like a good idea if approached in the same unique way).

Here’s a video which gives a quick overview of the book by Leanne herself. 

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