Aurelia, Aurélia begins on a boat. The author, sixteen years old, is traveling to Europe at an age when one can “try on personae like dresses.” She has the confidence of a teenager cultivating her earliest obsessions—Woolf, Durrell, Bergman—sure of her maturity, sure of the life that awaits her. Soon she finds herself in a Greece far drearier than the Greece of fantasy, “climbing up and down the steep paths every morning with the real old women, looking for kindling.”
Kathryn Davis’s hypnotic new book is a meditation on the way imagination shapes life, and how life, as it moves forward, shapes imagination. At its center is the death of her husband, Eric. The book unfolds as a study of their marriage, its deep joys and stinging frustrations; it is also a book about time, the inexorable events that determine beginnings and endings. The preoccupations that mark Davis’s fiction are recognizable here—fateful voyages, an intense sense of place, the unexpected union of the magical and the real—but the vehicle itself is utterly new.
Aurelia, Aurélia explodes the conventional bounds of memoir. It is an astonishing accomplishment.