REVIEW BY SARAH GAGNON
Green Apple Books (San Francisco)
Anne Carson’s Nox, which is Latin for “night,” is not like many books. A physical as well as written elegy for the author’s brother Michael, it is gray, rectangular, and heavy like a headstone, forcing the reader to open the clamshell-style cover like some kind of sarcophagus in order to access the text inside. Once exhumed, you realize that this accordion-style book is meant to be read in private; unfolded, it might stretch across an entire room.
By the time Carson learns of Michael’s unexpected death in Copenhagen, his widow—who could not locate Carson’s phone number among his papers for two weeks—has already scattered his ashes into the Danish sea. The estrangement between siblings was long; facing jail time in 1978, Michael fled his native Canada for Europe and India, traveling on a false passport, intermittently homeless, never returning home. (Carson likens her brother to Lazarus “as a person who had to die twice.”) Over the course of twenty-two years he writes only "laconic" postcards with no return address and a just one single letter, addressed to his mother, to convey that a woman he had fallen in love with had tragically died.
This letter appears and reappears throughout Nox, as do other pieces of correspondence, black-and-white photographs, collages, and Carson’s own words typewritten on fortune-sized bits of paper. She invokes Greek historian Herodotos as she goes about compiling the history of her brother with the little she has left of him. Running parallel to this memorabilia-laden meditation on absence is a prayer-like litany of dictionary entries: every other page contains a definition of each Latin word in a poem which Catullus wrote for his dead brother. It is a poem which Carson has long attempted to translate but never to her satisfaction. At the end of Nox, she does arrive at a beautiful translation and perhaps can finally let her brother go: “He refuses, he is in the stairwell, he disappears.”
$39.99 HB 192 (accordion fold) pages with 50 color & bw illustrations ISBN: 978-0-8112-1870-2 Pub date: April 2010