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The Archivist

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  2,015 Ratings  ·  302 Reviews
A young woman's impassioned pursuit of a sealed cache of T. S. Eliot's letters lies at the heart of this emotionally charged novel -- a story of marriage and madness, of faith and desire, of jazz-age New York and Europe in the shadow of the Holocaust.
Paperback, 326 pages
Published April 8th 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published 1998)
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Marne Wilson The descriptions come from the publishers, usually. (We Goodreads librarians do have the power to change them, and I sometimes do when I find a…moreThe descriptions come from the publishers, usually. (We Goodreads librarians do have the power to change them, and I sometimes do when I find a horrible one.) What a lot of people don't realize is that there's a different description for each edition of the book. If I find one that's horrible, I look at the different editions until I find one that I like better. I looked at four different descriptions of this book, and none look like a "run-on mess" to me. Maybe it already got fixed, or maybe we just have different standards!(less)

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Jan Rice
Feb 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book created a dark sense. Not noir, but a sense of foreboding and of something evil lurking. I'm a sucker for that. Witness my liking Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which many of my Facebook friends turn up their noses at. Apparently that makes me want to find out *what is going on.*

The story is of a young couple who marries in 1945. She's a poet. He's a librarian (the archivist of the title). He's a Christian, she a Jew. He can't accept what she's going through as everybody learns wha
Mar 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
Martha Cooley obviously went to a lot of trouble setting up the various patterns and parallels in this very tightly constructed book. I wish I had enjoyed it more. But really, she might have done better if she hadn’t been trying quite so hard.

Let me explain. There are three main characters in the book – Matthias, the archivist of the title (who is custodian of a cache of T.S. Eliot’s letters, sealed for the next 60 years, and a potential treasure trove for scholars), his wife Judith, and Roberta
Rebecca Foster
The Archivist is based on the real-life sealed trove of letters between T.S. Eliot and his friend Emily Hale (held at Princeton, though that exact location is never given in the novel). Matthias Lane is the archivist of the Mason Room’s rare books and literary papers. He’s still haunted by memories of his late wife, Judith, who was a poet incarcerated in a mental hospital for more than five years. She was an orphan, raised by her aunt and uncle in a jazz-loving household, but her religious angst ...more
Aug 05, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of literary fiction and introspection
This has become, unintentionally I assure you, the third book in a row I've read about repression, silence, isolation, and lies, and how they destroy you bit by bit. When I began reading this, I expected something of a love story, something along the lines of Possession, by the description on the back cover.

I could not have beenn more wrong. It is instead, a very introspective, harsh self examination by a man who happens to work at an archivist at "a prominent university," in a place that is unn
"Prisoners live in full awareness of the existence of an external reality, but the cell is of greater significance. My mother was the gatekeeper."

ספר חזק הכולל עלילה מתוחכמת ואפלה שנעה בשלושה מישורים:

במישור הראשון משולש היחסים בין ט. ס. אליוט, אישתו ויויאן ואמילי הייל. מערכת היחסים בין ט. ס. אליוט ואישתו ויויאן היתה רעועה. חלק תולים את התפוררות הנישואים במצבה הבריאותי והנפשי של ויויאן שאושפזה לבסוף במוסד המטפל במחלות נפש ונפטרה שם. בכל תקופת אישפוזה, במשך 10 שנים אליוט לא ביקר את אישתו אף לא פעם
Sep 08, 2007 rated it liked it
You know that email chain letter, "Bad Analogies from High School English Papers," the one that went "He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree"? That's the feeling this book gave me a lot of the time. It's about a librarian in charge of, and obsessed with, a collection of letters T.S. Eliot wrote while separated from his wife, who was in a mental hospital. As it turns out (surprise!), the librarian himself was also separated from his wife, who was in a mental hospital. Now, echoes like that ...more
David Seruyange
Sep 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
I first read The Archivist when it was released in paperback in 1999. I was drawn in by the cover and the concept: an archivist, a woman, old letters and the connection of lives in history. There are many plot summaries so I will keep mine brief: the archivist, advanced in years, is a man named Matthias, the younger woman is Roberta, a poet who seeks some letters written by T.S. Eliot. Matthias's deceased wife does have about a third of the book in diary entry form - entries made while she is co ...more
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
I really didn't like this book. The dual plot lines were contrived; the characters felt flat, fake, and forced; and everything was just far too predictable for my taste. Add to that the unremarkable, occasionally wooden, writing, and this was a book I was eager to be done with. So that I could move on to something else, not so that I would know how it ended.

This all surprises me because I went in really expecting to like it. After all the plot sounded remarkably similar to Possession, which I lo
Christopher Everest
If you know what I mean.... I admired the book.... It was impressive and emotional but its not a Christmas feelgood everybody sharing happy book.
This is a serious book. About serious subjects. A book which frames much of the events depicted (albeit backgrounded) against the poetry of T. S. Eliot. Even the figure of "The Archivist", the central character plays into this sense of a disconnected present, a disturbed past and a dangerous future. His marriage to Judith, and its breakdown parallels th
This was one of the books I bought in the Great Amazon Listmania Frenzy of 2000 (also known as "Ann learns about credit card debt"), and it's a great example of a book I mostly enjoyed reading but didn't need to own (a lesson I continually am re-teaching myself). The description makes the book sound like a Possession read-alike, with an emphasis on hidden information and the thrill of academic discovery, but it's more invested in bigger themes of guilt, religious identity, and isolation. This w ...more
Amber Goodwin
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have just finished an English degree and I have just finished reading this book as part of an MA course in Literary Research so it has been a long time since I have enjoyed a book so thoroughly and read it so quickly-I picked this up on Monday and have just finished it.

This book is fascinating to someone who is getting grips with academic life and the way in which archives and libraries work, why we privilege some things and discard others.For anyone involved in research, it consciously encour
I expected a Da Vinci Code-ish novel from the title. Suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised and relieved. I couldn't handle another book like that without having to hire a hit man for the author. The references to T.S. Eliot and jazz music truly made the story come to life. Tragically beautiful and I loved it. A search for identity amidst a masterfully fragmented plot. It made me want to immerse myself in poetry, reminding me that most of my generation wouldn't recognize poetry if it smacked ...more
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a wonderful novel. The archivist works in a university library where TS Eliot's letters to Emily Hale are stored with a not to open date of 2020. This part of the story is based on truth (her letters are at Princeton). A young poet wants to see the letters and is refused. She and the archivist become friends? collaborators? antagonists? and the archivist is driven to examine his own life and spiritual beliefs. T. S. Eliot's life and poetry are woven through the story, sometimes as echo, ...more
Jane Stevenson
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Not so much for its obvious themes, but for opening up the questions about truth and concealment of the past. The literary references gave the narrative an artistic context. I will reread this book as a lover of poetry and history.
Cathy Miller
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this book. And then I got to the last few pages and I know exactly how I feel. Matt, the main character, is no archivist. Maybe in some elemental ways, yes, he's an archivist, but ethically, he breaks codes and values that we hold dear in the archival profession. It was not his place to decide to burn the letters. And for him to think that people won't realize when the bequest opens in 2020 that letters weren't part of the collection is ridiculous. Any p ...more
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
All I knew about TS Eliot prior to reading this novel was he wrote poems about cats. Oh, and I've seen "Cats."
This novel revolves around Eliot's poetry, his marriage, his wife's descent into madness and her subsequent institutionalization. This parallels our protagonist, Mattias', story. We go back into time into his wife, Judith's, descent into madness and her subsequent institutionalization.
This happened 20 years prior to where our story begins, when a young graduate student wants to see the s
This was far too heavy for my personal tastes. Or maybe I'm too non-heavy, too atheistic, too female, too young, too uninterested in poetry, too far removed from the Holocaust, too everything for this book. None of the characters were extremely interesting and they were all very narcissistic. The coincidences between the characters' lives and the fixations on religion were also just too much, too ridiculous.

As an archivist I took huge issue with the main character. He made decisions based on per
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
Interesting mix of stories. It's a little bit history, a little bit poetry, a little bit book love, and a little bit bizarro mixed into the story of a man's relationship with his wife and interactions with a graduate student. It's going to take me some time to settle out what exactly I'm taking away from this book. It sure makes you think.
Molly Klodor
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
I loved how the author weaved TS Eliot's poetry into the story of the archivist and his emotional turmoil. Like Eliot's poetry, I found the novel to be slow at times and a challenge to embrace. However, the writing was clean and unemotional and the story of love not being sufficient was haunting.
Eugenea Pollock
Dec 19, 2016 rated it liked it
This book has excellent reviews, and it was not a waste of time. But I expected better. And the ending was a betrayal of the very essence of the eponymous archivist. Was he trying to make up for his two prior failures? That just did not justify his final action, in my opinion. Disappointed.
Jan 13, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read_2013
Lots of unnecessary thoughts on God and T.S.Eliot (and sometimes it's not very clear who is who, but they both look profoundly unpleasant).
In fact, everyone in the book is utterly, profoundly unpleasant.
Theresa Spencer
May 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
I did not care for these characters and Martha Cooley could not make me.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like it and expected something more like Lovett's Bookman's Tale. This was pretty depressing, though interesting at times. There was more WWII stuff and not much about him being an archivist.
Bonnie McNamara
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very different than any books I've read recently. The era, the people, the situation all left me with the feeling of an artistic style rarely seen in more recent best sellers.

• Existence is “infinitely cross-referenced”
• Vivienne Eliot, reading husband’s poetry, waiting in vain to be rescued from mental institution—why is this first image in book?
• Matthias to students: “a god, indispensable and unavoidable keeper of countless objects of desire” (5)—guardian—does he fail in this?
• “violating those limits is a form of grave robbing” (7)
• Matt’s parents—withdrawn God-fearing mother, brooding father (10)—people interested him less than books
• Homelife
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Finely crafted and absorbing.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
War, New York City, Poetry, Madness and a Library Archivist make for an engrossing read
Jen St.
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's not much to say except that I absolutely loved this book on tape. If you love libraries (or librarians), old books, poetry, reflection, rumination, and a unique plot, this book is for you!
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Confused? 1 4 Mar 21, 2014 01:17PM  
  • The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future
  • In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians
  • The Archivist's Story
  • Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore
  • Ex-Libris
  • Libraries in the Ancient World
  • An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books
  • The Philosophy of Literary Form
  • Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
  • A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict
  • The Librarian
  • Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library
  • Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History
  • The Grand Complication
  • Libraries
  • At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries
  • Great Books for Every Book Lover: 2002 Great Reading Suggestions for the Discriminating Bibliophile
  • Library: An Unquiet History
Martha Cooley lives in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches in the Bennington Writing Seminars and the master's program in creative writing at Boston University.
More about Martha Cooley
“In a few minutes I heard the books' voices: a low, steady, unsupressible hum. I'd heard it many times before. I've always had a finely tuned ear for a library's accumulations of echo and desire. Libraries are anything but hushed.” 50 likes
“With a little effort, anything can be shown to connect with anything else: existence is infinitely cross-referenced. And everything has more than one definition. ” 8 likes
More quotes…