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 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 are being exhibited in June 2021 in the Book Art Bookshop in Hoxton, London:
Esmond and Ilia (May 24th, 2022)
Published as Esmond and Ilia in the United States, available in paperback on May 24, 2022 via The New York Review of Books. The cover illustration is by Sophie Herxheimer.
Reviews / Press
‘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
‘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: