Inventory of a Life Mislaid (March 4th, 2021)
Inventory of a Life Mislaid follows Marina Warner’s beautiful, penniless young mother Ilia as she leaves southern Italy in 1945 to travel alone to London. Her husband, an English colonel, is still away in the war in the East as she begins to learn how to be Mrs Esmond Warner, an Englishwoman.
With diamond rings on her fingers and bespoke brogues on her feet, Ilia steps fearlessly into the world of cricket and riding to hounds. But, without prospect of work in a bleak, war-ravaged England, Esmond remembers the glorious ease of Cairo during his periods of leave from the desert campaign and he decides to move there to start a bookshop, a branch of W. H. Smith’s. But growing resistance to foreign interests, especially British, erupts in the l952 uprising, and the Cairo Fire burns much of downtown, including the English bookshop.
From letters and journals read only after the couple ’ s deaths, from photographs found coiled in a film cylinder, from gifts and love tokens, objects and mementoes, the author pieces together the reckonings and discoveries her parents made. Evocative and imaginative, at once historical and speculative, this luminous memoir powerfully resurrects the fraught union and unrequited hopes of Warner’s parents. Memory intertwines richly with myth, the river Lethe feeling as real as the Nile. Vivid recollections of Cairo swirl with ever-present dreams of a city where Warner’s parents, friends and associates are still restlessly wandering.
The book has been published with Harper Collins in the UK on March 4th, 2021, and was published in the US in May 2022, by NYRB Books. It is now available in paperback.
An interview with Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian about the book can be read in here. On June 11, 2021, Marina shared some of her childhood memories from Brussels in an event organized by Waterstones Brussels, which can be watched here.
Alongside a number of photographs, Marina’s tale is accompanied by 80 papercut vignettes created by Sophie Herxheimer. They were exhibited in mid-June 2021 at the bookartbookshop in Hoxton, London. The exhibition was called Pavement Prophecies and Papercuts. Read about Sophie’s process in this “Spilling the Ink” blog post: The exhibition also featured Sophie’s entire deck of 78 prophetic cards INDEX, published by Zimzalla.
Since Inventory of a Life Mislaid was first published Sophie and Marina have run workshops and events together, including:
On 28 April 2021, UEA (University of East Anglia) hosted an in-conversation, chaired by Alison Winch, UEA Live co-director and lecturer in Media Studies at UEA. More information available here. Here is a blog post by Sophie about the event, complete with pictures. A lovely write-up of the event by Melissa Erdem, can be found here.
Sophie and Marina hosted a ‘Dream Stones’ workshop with Birkbeck Arts Week on 12 May 2021. You can watch it back here
On 3 July 2021, they both took part in an event at Essex Book Festival in Southend.
In 2022, they ran an Arvon at Home Masterclass, ‘Listening to Things’, which took place on Thursday 10 February. In this two hour masterclass Sophie and Marina reflected on the vagaries of memory, the role of imagination and yes, invention, in meeting the past and re-animating it. They explored different keys to the doors of experience and tune into the surprising power of objects. With participants, they watch as seeming trifles: Desdemona’s handkerchief, Aladdin’s lamp, Widow Wadham’s eyeglass in Tristram Shandy – act as pivots, moving story and characters into unforeseen worlds, pressing changes in the fates of all who touch them. And they discovered how the things around us too, whether ordinary or rare, seem to hold their own dialogue with us, despite their ostensible silence. They write to find out what keys objects hold, to writing, to imagination, to the past and the future.
For any future events stay up to date with Marina’s diary page
Inventory of a Life Mislaid is included in One Hundred Books for the Next Twenty Years
Ali Smith chose Inventory as one of the five books she selected for her contribution to One Hundred Books for the Next Twenty Years, a way in which London Review Bookshop is marking their twentieth anniversary. LRB invited twenty writers to choose the five books they think we need to navigate the next twenty years and the bundles are for sale in a limited edition, with a first release of just twenty of each and an illustrated introduction signed and numbered by the author. Marina’s book in nestled in the bundle alongside After Midnight by Irmgard Keun, translated by Anthea Bell; Radical Attention by Julia Bell; Experiments in Imagining Otherwise by Lola Olufemi and Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser. Available here!
The photograph below was taken by Stephen Bond, with Marina reading from Inventory at the European Alliance of Academies Conference, ‘Freedom of Artistic Expression in Literature in the 21st Century’, sat next to Bianca Bellová, author of The Lake (2016) and Mona (2019).
Esmond and Ilia (May 24th, 2022)
Published as Esmond and Ilia in the United States, the book is available in paperback from May 24, 2022 via The New York Review of Books. The cover illustration is by Sophie Herxheimer.
Reviews / Press
‘I found myself re-reading The Lost Father last summer, enticed back into its intoxicating world thanks to Warner’s recent book, Inventory of a Life Mislaid: An Unreliable Memoir. Although published 34 years apart, the two books are step-siblings of a sort. […] Warner began work on The Lost Father in the aftermath of her father’s death; Inventory of a Life Mislaid, meanwhile, was occasioned by the loss of her mother. In both though, it’s Ilia’s story that she’s drawn most strongly to, and that which she’s trying to make sense of. ‘I wanted to find out what my mother’s life in southern Italy was like – she was born the year Mussolini came to power,’ Warner told the Literary Review. The Lost Father, she continued, was ‘the result of trying to imagine what it was like to be a young woman under those conditions’. The ingenuity and the beauty of both books is that they’re simultaneously heady family romances and interrogations of the very idea of the family romance; of how a story, regardless of how much it’s based on fact or fiction, can hold tremendous power over the identities of those it involves, even at a remove.’ – Lucy Scholes weaves together The Lost Father (1987) and Inventory of a Life Mislaid wonderfully in her piece ‘The Lost Father by Marina Warner: a lush family saga by a formidable writer’ for The Booker Prize website, March 29, 2023.
‘Marina Warner’s memoir is a fluent, eloquent and touching metaphorical exploration of her parents’ and her own past, never falling into too much sentimentalism and always attempting to be as honest and objective as it is possible when reminiscing and trying to do justice to a parent’s life and death […] [it adds] a precious stone to the pyramid of Warner’s fictional and non-fictional corpus.’ – Souhir Zekri Masson (University of Tunis), The European Journal Of Life Writing, Vol. XI (2022) R40–R45.
‘[T]here are two central metaphors traversing her entire fictional oeuvre that is again echoed in this memoir: the first is the constant but unrequited human attempts to reach the hidden truth about self and past. The second metaphor concerns disguise as performance and masquerade, which leads to various discussions of themes and ‘characters’ in the memoir.’ – Souhir Zekri Masson (University of Tunis), The European Journal Of Life Writing
‘All Warner’s skills as a mythographer are brought to bear on her parents’ story as she investigates the history behind a series of familiar objects … Warner pours an encyclopedic gathering of information about the world her parents inhabited. The book itself is a kind of bookshop.’ – Clair Wills, The New York Review of Books, 22 September 2022
‘In Warner’s hall of mirrors, there’s no predicting whose face—Scheherazade’s, Jorge Luis Borges’s, Derek Walcott’s—might glide by next. […] To read Warner’s writing is to appreciate how stories, persisting over thousands of years, shape and are shaped by the societies that tell them.’ – ‘Marina Warner Sees the Myths in Our Moment’, interview with Katy Waldman, New Yorker, 26 June 2022
‘[I]n embracing embellishment and misinterpretation, she elevates this family history to a work of art far denser and more delightful, both more erudite and earthy than anything that cleaved meticulously to the known facts could have been’ – ‘Once Upon a Time, Two Lives Collided’, review by Lucy Scholes, The New York Times, 14 June, 2022
‘In each chapter, Warner grounds us in history and then flies off on the wings of poesy, writing dialogue and rendering psychology like a novelist. […] she seeks strangeness in stories and myths and feels exhilarated when they slip her understanding and dwell in mystery. […] Esmond and Ilia is a book of desire and its frustrations: the excitement of romance but also its curdling; the archival fever that takes over, that enlivens and maddens the historian.’ – ‘In Search of Strangeness’, review by Anthony Domestico, Commonweal, 14 June 2022
‘The suppleness and pizazz of her prose […] wondrously entertaining, an ideal book for a long, hot summer’ – ‘Marina Warner’s new book evokes the vanished glamour of yesterday’, review by Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 8 June, 2022
‘Her words are her lamp; and her restoration of her parents’ story is a ravishment, unforgettable, illuminating. […] With “Esmond and Ilia”, her memoir-cum-fable of the hoopoe and the porpoise, Ms. Warner has reopened the window that slammed down so abruptly on her childhood’s golden age, and let the light back in.’ – ‘A Fairy Tale of Cairo’, review by Liesl Schillinger, The Wall Street Journal, 3 June 2022
‘A compassionate, belletristic cross-cultural memoir’ – Kirkus Reviews, 9 February, 2022
‘…Warner’s glorious new book’ – Leo Robson, ‘Marina Warner: I always found it very hard to know what I’m like’, The New Statesman, 29 June 2021
‘This is a book about abundance. It draws into its orbit a profuse cascade of objects and observations, of furniture, fripperies, pictures, tableware, fancy costumes, diamond rings, books, architecture, people, places, anecdotes, family lore, letters, drinks cabinets, Egyptian cigarette tins, rose gardens, magnolia trees, English hacking jackets and Persian poetry. It is also abundant in connections, or disconnections, between different cultures and communities, between documentation and recollection, between time past and time present.’ – Patricia Craig, ‘Once Upon a Time’, Dublin Review of Books, May 2021
‘Essayist, scholar, fabulist, scintillating critic of art, literature and life – Warner is a writer of extravagant learning and rare allure.’ – Brian Dillon, ‘Tell us more, Marina Warner’, Irish Times, 6 May 2021
‘Warner is such a skillful and imaginative writer that much of this and the rest of the book reads like lived experience. …This brave, painful, dazzling memoir is riveting.’ – Anthony Sattin, ‘Marina Warner becomes her mother’s Shabti’, The Spectator, 24 April 2021
‘This is a wonderfully rich, partly mythical memoir that sifts through the past to connect a family’s secrets to the deep-rooted colonial assumptions that still resonate in a post-Brexit Britain.’ – Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Transplanted in Foreign Soil’, TLS 26 March 2021
‘One senses that for Warner, moving through these shadows of the past is discomfiting rather than consolation. We readers, though, are the richer for it.’ – Catherine Pepinster, Church Times, 25 June 2021
‘As delicate as the lace her mother hemmed, as sharp as the facets of the diamond rings her mother lost, Marina Warner’s Inventory of a Life Mislaid is a captivating re-creation of her childhood in a lost Cairo, so incomparably louche, sensuous and fragrant, and of her parents’ improbable marriage.’ – Ferdinand Mount
‘Wonderful – a brave, inventive, touching distillation of memory and imagination, shimmering with images, sounds and scents, conjuring a clash of lives, worlds and words’ – Jenny Uglow
An entrancing weave of memoir, history, autobiography and fiction, this adventurous book voyages through time and space to re-discover, re-imagine and reinvent a lost world. One of Marina Warner’s most beautiful works’ – Michèle Roberts
‘Moving and original … Warner’s view of the past is always precise, at once generous and exacting. She has a gift for using objects to conjure up characters, feelings and atmospheres … Poignant and exquisitely crafted, Inventory of a Life Mislaid is bound to become a classic’ – Catriona Seth
‘Marina Warner’s memoir is a poignant and imaginatively transgressive exploration of her parents’ marriage, a war time love match between Southern Italy and upper class England and all the difficulties that entailed. It’s full of evocative flash backs and cherished objects keenly remembered- at once a treasure house of family memories and a history of an epoch’ – Margaret Drabble
‘A sensitive and sympathetic account of a bygone time.’ – Diane James, Goodreads
‘Warner, beautifully and subtly, has contextualised her parents in a memoir that brings her relief as well as sadness.’ – Colin Steele, The Canberra Times, 13 August 2021
Interview with Dr Meredith Lake on ABC Radio National, as part of their series ‘Big Weekend of Books’ – 47min 36sec, Sunday 29 August 2021, 4.45pm
Book review by Frances Wilson from the Literary Review (21 March 2021)
Book review by Mary Emma Adams from The Tablet (6 March 2021):
Review by Jane Clinton, Camden New Journal, 20 May 2021: