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 will be published in the US this fall, by NYRB Books.
An interview with Charlotte Higgs in the Guardian about the book can be read in here.
Alongside a number of photographs, Marina’s tale is accompanied by 80 papercut vignettes created by Sophie Herxheimer.
‘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
‘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
Book review by Frances from the Literary Review (21 March 2021)
Book review by Mary Emma Adams from The Tablet (6 March 2021):