Life & Culture

Review: Journey Around My Flat

Anthony Rudolf's book aligns perfectly with the zeitgeist of lockdown


Journey Around My Flat

By Anthony Rudolf

Shearsman Books, £16.95

Reviewed by Richard Aronowitz

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” — that immortal line from T. S. Eliot hints at the project central to Anthony Rudolf’s new book, although the care and order that Eliot conjures in those words is a far cry from the barely controlled chaos that seems to reside behind the front door of Rudolf’s flat.

And what a treasure trove is there in that chaos: 50 years of archival material relating to Rudolf’s work as the founding editor of the poetry publisher Menard Press; faxes, email print-outs and letters chronicling his decades-long work with writers and artists; family photographs, trinkets, and mementoes, documenting both his birth family with its Jewish roots in Poland and White Russia and the family of two children, now grown up, that he made with his ex-wife.

Someone called “Paula” is referred to with increasing frequency, and it becomes clear as the book unfolds that she is the celebrated Portuguese-born artist Paula Rego, for whom he acts as sitter and presumably also muse, seeing as she is his life partner.

Journey Around My Flat aligns perfectly with the zeitgeist of lockdown, given that it is a topographical study of one apartment space and an inventory of all that it contains, down to the very pots and pans. This examination of a small space could create a sense of claustrophobia and shrinking horizons, but the opposite is true. Lance Armstrong famously wrote of cycling that “It’s Not About The Bike” and Rudolf is not really writing about his possessions: rather, it is the memories and emotions that these objects conjure that is at the heart of his book, and it is these recollections, spurred by his collection of ephemera, that create the expansive vistas here.

Rudolf employs the spaces of his flat and all that they contain simply as springboards for discursive enquiries into music, art, philosophy, history, identity, the atom bomb, and beyond. These digressions and diversions are always elegant, erudite, thoughtful and rarely dull, although some of the listings of his LPs and books, particularly those where only titles and no ownership context are given, might be skimmed over by all but the most careful of readers.

There is something haunting in Rudolf’s nostalgia: the names of some of these poets, novelists, artists, and composers will probably mean little to those, say, under 50 years old. And there is an inbuilt evanescence in the meanings attached to most personal artefacts, and indeed to the reminiscences attached to such meanings. Rudolf’s book raises the spectre of our own mortality and that perennial, nagging question: will what we leave behind mean anything to the next generation?

Richard Aronowitz’s most recent book is ‘Life Lessons’ (2019).


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