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Solitary Mathilda has long harbored a conflicted enchantment bordering on rapture with the "Bright Young Things," the Bloomsbury Group, and their contemporaries of the '20s and '30s, and throughout her life her attempts at reinvention have mirrored their extravagance and artfulness. After discovering a photograph of the forgotten Black modernist poet Hermia Druitt, who ran in the same circles as the Bright Young Things, Mathilda becomes transfixed and resolves to learn as much as she can about the mysterious figure. Her search brings her to a peculiar artists’ residency in Dun, a small European town in which Hermia was known to have lived during the '30s. The artists’ residency throws her deeper into a lattice of secrets and secret societies that takes hold of her aesthetic imagination. From champagne theft and Black Modernisms to art sabotage, alchemy, and a lotus-eating proto-luxury communist cult, Mathilda’s “Escapes” through modes of aesthetic expression lead her to question the convoluted ways truth is made and obscured.

384 pages, Paperback

First published March 25, 2020

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Shola von Reinhold

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 271 reviews
Profile Image for Adina .
889 reviews3,536 followers
May 20, 2021
Now winner of the 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize. It had to be one of the two from the longlist that I could not finish. Same as Booker International last year. I should probably quit following prizes.

Book 4/10 -DNF at 20%

When I decided to read the ROFC Prize Longlist I knew I was going into uncharted territory with my reading. I expected to find new authors and narrative styles to love and I also expected that some books will not be what I like at all. Lote is an example of the latter. Despite universal appraisal I could not connect with the narrator, the subject and I plunged head first into a reading slump. After a few days of annoyance and dread I decided that enough is enough and that I do not need to finish all the books on the list if I do not like them. I also realized that I do not have enough time to read all the books until the shortlist is announced so I took that pressure off as well. The only positive is that I finally started to read Virginia Woolf.

Why I gave up on Lote although it is well written? The narrator annoys me and not in the good sense. I read many unlikable characters but they were interesting and I wanted to know them better. Socialites and their lives are not my thing either. Finally, It felt too pretentious for me and it made me roll my eyes too many times. I felt that I was developing a headache with all that nonsense about Arcadia and escapes.

Below I added one less positive review of this novel and two very enthusiastic.

Paul's 5* review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Neil's 5* review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Katia N 3* review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,304 followers
June 22, 2022
Deserved winner of both the 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize, one of the UK's newest and exciting prizes, and the James Tait Black Prize, it's oldest but equally interesting. Perhaps the most striking novel of 2020.

The RoC judges' citation: This stunning, formally inventive novel from Shola von Reinhold follows Mathilda, possessed of a superbly arch narrative voice, as she navigates a series of her own ‘transfixtions’ (visions, obsessive manias) around forgotten black Scottish modernist poet Hermia Druitt. Peopled with voices salvaged from liminal fissures as well as avant-garde couplings caricatured in a creepy ‘cold tinny argot’, von Reinhold’s rapturous queer attempt to reclaim and reframe the baroque and decadent, to reaffirm pleasure as the heart of the novel, reveals its force. At once a seriously funny novel rich with intrigue and suspense, it is also an indictment and a powerful decolonial response to historical and contemporary attempts to curate art and art history within the calcified mould of European conservatism.

Virginia Woolf quoted from A Room of One's Own, with a response from Malachi, comrade-in-arms of the narrator of Shola von Reinhold's novel, Lote.

‘Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman,’ Virginia Woolf said.

‘And/or Black,’ Malachi said.

In 2019, von Reinhold wrote an article for the Independent which began:

When I turned 17 I started fantasising vividly, almost involuntarily, about meeting Virginia Woolf.

We’d be gossiping, chain-smoking and downing glasses of champagne at her Mecklenburgh Square flat in London, obviously. Sometimes Duncan Grant (with whom, like many other queer teens, I was having a passionate affair) would be there, sometimes EM Forster or Ottoline Morrell.

Then one day, Woolf looked at me and delivered a stream of racist abuse in front of everyone. Everyone laughed (even Duncan) and I was expelled, abruptly, from my own daydream.

They then quoted the author of 2019's most important avant-garde novel, the Goldsmiths listed, We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff- Isabel Waidner recently asked why “are most contemporary, politically acute avant-garde writers coming through poetry, performance, art, film, you name it, and not prose literature?”, von Reinhold concuring, with a specific focus on black writers, curiously, when it comes to the novel, as you veer away from the commercial towards the dubiously named “literary” and into the apparently rarefied heights of the experimental, black writers become less visible.

'Visible' here a key word, since as they pointed out, figures such as CLR James, Una Marson, and more recently Margaret Busby (this was written a few months before Busby was invited to chair the Booker prize) are often simply overlooked in the mainstream history of writing.

Lote is a wonderful novelistic response to that situation, both contributing a distinctive new entry to the canon of avant-garde literature, and directly addressing von Reinhold's concerns.

The novel opens:

An incensed blond twink said, "Excuse me, miss! Where do you think you're going? This is a members-only club."


i. People rarely allow for Blackness and caprice (be it in dress or deportment) to coexist without the designation of Madness.
ii. People like to presume Madness over style whenever they have the chance

I gathered that my eBay lab diamonds, silver leatherette and lead velvets had been mentally catalogued as a few of the traditional accoutrements of the Maniacal Black Person, who possesses no taste, only variations of a madness which comes down on her from on high.

He occupied a large built-in table of the kind at which a receptionist or Concierge would customarily be stationed.

"I thought this was the new archive site? I'm volunteering." He was more annoyed than embarrassed at being caught out.

Our narrator is Mathilda and she is volunteering to sort through the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, and photograpic material relating to her beloved Bright Young Things, a Bohemian group of artists and socialites in 1920s London.

Mathilda is subject to Transfixions, visions or spiritual connections with various figures from this and other groups, including Hon. Stephen Tennant, which she captures on cards:

On silver card written in shell coloured ink (barely legible)


Stephen Napier Tennant

(Image—photograph of Tennant in costume as Prince Charming, lying like the effigy on a tomb, hands in prayer and with a glossy silk cape spread out around him, by Cecil Beaton.)

Span: 21 April 1906—28 February 1987

Memorabilia: Queer English socialite most prominent during interwar era. Is frequently quoted as responding, when asked by his father what he wanted to be when he grew up, “…a Great Beauty, Sir!”, which became the case.

A human orchid who said he heard the flowers, his siblings, chant his name whilst walking on the Salisbury Plains as a boy.

“You needn’t wave and dye it like that, because you don’t need to at all… You know, a man doesn’t want to look pretty,” said Tallulah Bankhead when he met her in New York in 1931.

“Well, some men, I think, do want to look pretty. And nicer still, beautiful!” he replied.

Marcelled not only his hair but daily existence, by which is meant he induced the decorative wave in all things.

Is said to have lived in bed. This is not quite true. Certainly spent later life in comparative seclusion but by no means a total recluse. Friends included Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Cocteau and Willa Cather. Ended his four-year relationship with Siegfried Sassoon after Sassoon, turning up unannounced, found him without makeup on. Spent most of his life working on his novel Lascar: A Story You Must Forget, producing over 500,000 words but never completing it. Rarely mentioned is the unpublished novel he did complete, The Second Chance.

“What in life could be more ecstatic an occupation than putting orchids in an ice-box and then taking them out again?”


Sensations: Silver wafer into lead-white paste, soundless string instruments involving beeswax in their production.

Further notes: Was an aesthete in the purest sense– a lover of beauty; but not a dandy, which tradition- ally entails a certain adherence to masculinity.

Other Transfixions included Jeanne Duval, Roberte Horth, Luisa Casati, Josephine Baker, Nancy Cunard, Richard Bruce Nugent, Ludwig II Bavaria and Bel-Shalti Nannar, Babylonian High Priestess of the moon god, Sin.

Amongst the photographs she finds one of an unknown black artist, which she is able, via her research into the archives, to eventually identify as the, seemingly forgotten, Scottish modernist poet, Hermia Druitt.

A further clue leads her to the European town of Dun, where Druitt seemingly spent her last year's and founded an esoteric society LOTE, a queer modernist cult who believed the mythical lotus-eaters were a real proto-communist society:

Enochian Order of the Luxuries, also: Order of the Lotus Eaters, The Lote-Os, the New Lotophagi, the Yellow Heralds, LOTE

(est. London/Dun. circa 1926-1928): Short-lived society bearing faint superficial similarities to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (pp. 337-360) which was known for its members, who included literary and artistic figures.

Associated members: Hon. Stephen Tennant, Marchesa Luisa Casti, Richard Bruce Nugent, Nancy Cunard, Arke Drumm.

Arke Drumm is a pseudonym of Druitt, and part of the novel's brilliance is how von Reinhold manages to integrate Druitt (a ficticious invention of the novel) into the real-life history of the other members (all real).

Formally, the novel innovatively integrates a number of different strands - the main narrative, Mathilda's Transfixions, extracts from a (fictional) academic treatise Black Modernisms, and direct accounts of Druitt's own story.

To get to Dun, Mathilda bluffs her way on to a Residency at a foundation for followers of a theorist John Garreaux, whose aesthetic and artistic principles are the antithesis of her own and Druitt's. This contrast, and the pseudo-babble associated with the "Thought Art" of this group gives the novel its comedy:

He spoke opposites and odd couplings: the cold tinny argot of Pyramid Schemes came out his mouth coiled around something borderline Churchy. Then what sounded like Self Help suddenly hardened, grew spikes and became Continental Theory.

And the relationship between Garreaux and Druitt, and how this may account for her erasure from the record, gives the novel its narrative tension.

There is a lot to unpack here. To pick one theme, as one character points out, the "novel is dead" (or "painting is dead", etc) crowd is typically represented by old, straight, white, middle-class men and there is a need to reclaim these forms for those who haven’t been given the freedom to explore them. The novel also makes a case for looking in the cracks in the straight-white-middle-class canon to discover those who have been overlooked, but also the dangers of getting lost in the cracks, rather than turning away from or even tearing down the walls.

A quite brilliant novel.



An in-depth review:

Interviews with the author:
Profile Image for Katia N.
585 reviews705 followers
February 10, 2021
This book seems to be universally loved, so I allow myself a voice of decent and say that I found it relatively dull. It seems to aspire to be a postmodern playful intellectual novel introducing queer people and people of colour into the genre. It does well with the introduction. But it does not do that well with the post modern bit. The first part was fresh and funny. But then it has started using well versed tropes of a lost manuscripts and lost people, novel within the novel etc. And I did not find It intellectually satisfying. It seemed also to have a playful go on the literary/critical theory. Again, I did not find it funny or profound or clever. It was like a pretentious attempt to expose something the author seems to find pretentious. Or maybe it is just my different sense of humour.

The question whether Virginia Wolfe was a racist was raised and I think I can get why, to an extent. But I did not get a feeling it was probed deeply enough. On the tangent, it did not work for me.

But my main area of dissatisfaction was a sheer celebration of idleness both in the socialites of the 20- 30s of the last century and now. Notwithstanding with the initial class or identify background, i do not find being a socialite a very profound aspiration. So I found quite dull reading about page after page of oversleeping, missing classes, spending days in a bed or getting into fancy dresses and getting drunk on a pink champaign. I understand though that some might find it a playful occupation.

And the resolution of the intellectual puzzle was predictable.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,793 reviews4,428 followers
January 10, 2022
I chose a truly wonderful book to start the year with, but it’s also an extremely difficult one to write about. Lote is an academic mystery about a secret society. It’s about the exclusion of black people from (what is recorded of) history. It’s mostly set in a mysterious, vaguely sketched European town that seems to exist a little outside reality. It’s about a woman who repeatedly seeks to escape her own life and reinvent herself. It’s about a weird artist’s residency where people speak in pure cant and revere an obscure architect. All these things are in there, but there’s also a load of other stuff – about aesthetics, beauty, decadence, ways of seeing – Lote is a book of fantasies and ideas, fizzing with intelligence, infused with baroque spirit.

Solitary and highly resourceful, Mathilda lives by wringing what she can from a situation/place/person and then moving on. She is infatuated with the Bright Young People of the 1920s (among many other things). While volunteering in an archive, she finds a photograph of an unidentified black woman alongside one of her existing ‘Transfixions’, the socialite Stephen Tennant. Her quest to find out more about this woman, Hermia Druitt, takes her to the strange and dreamlike town of Dun, to a fateful meeting with destitute aesthete Erskine-Lily, and to the possible conclusion that everything is connected.

The synopsis says Lote ‘immerses readers in the pursuit of aesthetics and beauty, while interrogating the removal and obscurement of Black figures from history’, and it really does, but not in any way didactically, which is always my fear about novels that claim to ‘interrogate’ things or impart some overview of theory. Every time Mathilda discusses history, art or any framework for her thinking, it feels organic. (Meanwhile, the dense jargon used by the ‘Thought Artists’ effectively pillories not only the impenetrability of much critical discourse, but also how unimaginative it is.) I read Against Nature straight after this (not particularly because I’d read this, but my brain was probably making connections without me realising) and it struck me how much Lote is a black/female/queer counterpart to it, capturing the same heady sensations of lush abundance without any of the narrow-mindedness.

And I also found it immensely charming: Mathilda’s language can be florid (and occasionally blunt, and often funny), but it feels real and deliberate, including (especially?) the bits that don’t quite make sense, and I loved that she has such strong opinions yet also changes her mind quite often; she is open to ideas, an attitude that’s bound to bleed into the way one reads the book.

I read Lote in a sort of delirious trance, a phrase that could also describe the novel itself. It left me dizzy with pleasure; from it I acquired a new perspective on the history of art, a wonderfully vivid mental image of its setting, and a strong craving for frothy pink champagne.

TinyLetter | Linktree
Profile Image for anna marie.
410 reviews89 followers
September 11, 2020
this is one of the best books I've ever read!! patron saint of decadent queer Black anticapitalists!!! a love letter to pansies & modernists everywhere. deeply grateful this exists & a little jealous i didnt write it myself but mostly just i feel so full of the sensual pleasure of it that i want to weep... & drink pink alcohol until I'm intoxicated by blue tiles and archives
Profile Image for Jola.
184 reviews277 followers
May 21, 2021

The whole thing is very enticing and radical and… beautiful,” he said, as if trying the word out. “I haven’t said that for a very long time, Mathilda.” Hector's comment on Lotus Eaters summarizes my impressions after having read Lote (2020).

Shola von Reinhold's novel is like a multi-layered cake. A humongous, slightly shocking lavender cake to be exact, generously - sometimes too generously - adorned with ornaments.

The number of layers and their arrangement impressed me. Some of them blur, some of them are very distinct. Some are visible all the time, some disappear to emerge again jauntily after a while. Some of them are nutritious and yummy, some taste bland or weird. Let me tell you about my favourite ones.

Frédéric Bazille, Black Woman with Peonies (1870).

The author argues that considerable efforts have been made at blanching Black people from history, especially history of art and literature, at unmaking them. Shola von Reinhold even suggests that pushing Black art in Europe into shadowy marginalia was not just an individual choice of some racists working at museums and universities. In the ’70s, there was a club at Oxford, Society for the Conservation of Culture, a network of people actively suppressing information about Black European culture. I guess the scandal caused by Harmonia Rosales' paintings in 2017 prove we are still in denial.

Shola von Reinhold's sad conclusions and persuasion that Black art matters made me think of a book title I saw some time ago: Racism Costs Everyone and I thought how well it encapsulates the loss of works of art, books, poems by Black artists and writers which we have been deprived of, as they were completely forgotten, hidden on purpose or not created at all because the potential author or artist was not bold enough to face rejection. It was not just fear of being ignored. A Black person was - and still is - exposed to very concrete and palpable forms of hatred: Not a naturally anxious or shy person, Hermia was known to remain indoors for weeks in a state of anxiety, watching passers-by from behind her blood-red lace curtains, fully dressed and ready to leave, but unable. She found herself overwhelmed by the prospect of receiving abuse in public.

It shows that Shola von Reinhold is fascinated with words, their melody, the way they look, and plays with them as if they were shards of stained glass exposed to sun rays from different angles:

this obsessive longing to say puce, then Polyfilla, then solar-powered bird bath, then worst of all, topiary.

The mouth of a pedestrian tunnel perpetually sighed into the midst of the usually empty plaza.

Enamoured enamel!

The sky was clear and furiously starred, resembling frozen breath.

Guilt gilt.

Dear Shola von Reinhold, I am not Titania (alas!) but mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note anyway!

I was enchanted to meet all of them, especially:

✤ Luisa Casati and her infamous Venetian palazzo, her Capresian villa stuffed with occult instruments and antique magical textbooks, white peacocks running around indoors and live boa constrictors as necklaces, green chemical fires burning in the fireplaces and ‘costumes’ designed by the Ballets Russes. At one dinner party, the Marchesa remained absolutely motionless whilst a few seats along the dimly lit table sat a waxwork reconstruction of herself, so that the confused guests (victims) were quite unable to know where to look, or whom to speak to.

Luisa Casati

✤ Stephen Napier Tennant, A human orchid who said he heard the flowers, his siblings, chant his name whilst walking on the Salisbury Plains as a boy.

Friendship, many meanings of escape, racism, queerness, sexual identity, theory of art, the symbol of lotus representing elegance, beauty, perfection, purity and grace, are examples of other layers you will discover in Lote. I think that even the readers who were not smitten would appreciate the abundance of topics and uniqueness of this novel, its fresh form and the author’s radical approach. The story of a young Black woman, Matilda Adamarola, who gets fascinated with the biography of the marginalized Black poet, Hermia Druitt, is like a scaffold and all the other storylines – there are quite a few – are wrapped around it artfully, creating a net the reader gets caught into. Attention, being in a kind of Hermia-trance is contagious! It is hard to believe that Druitt was not a real person but Shola von Reinhold's invention - she is so vivid!

Reading Lote is like embarking on a literary rollercoaster. Get ready for a wild ride and prepare yourself for genre fluidity, shifts in point of view, various narrators, cascades of images, an abundance of fragrances, sounds and sensations. From boredom to excitement. From artificiality to genuity. From kitsch to touching beauty. From excess to wanting more. From realism to magic. From tristesse to ridance. From sensibility to absurd.

I noticed that reactions to Shola von Reinhold's astounding 'cake' vary significantly: the readers either feel mesmerized and categorically demand another helping or quite contrary, they leave their piece unfinished or feel dizzy and disillusioned. For me basking in a flurry of vibrant images Shola von Reinhold paints with words was a breathtaking experience. Capturing the essence of Lote is hardly doable though. Imagine desperate attempts to conceal the smell of precious, mystical perfume from a smashed flask. Do not even bother. The scent will stay with you anyway.

A little update which made me smile.
Great news from the 19th of May: the Republic of Consciousness Prize Winner 2021 is Jacaranda Books for Lote by Shola von Reinhold.

Hodo Takemura, Lotus
Profile Image for Morgan M. Page.
Author 8 books734 followers
February 14, 2021
An exquisitely written, formally daring debut novel about Black British non-binary decadance. Shola von Reinhold's Lote is perhaps one of the best novels I have ever read. Mathilda is an Escapist, someone desperately trying to flee the oppressive drabness of life—the quotidienne humiliations of racist, classist transphobia that seek to lock people like her in place. All she wants is to spend her days langorously Transfixed by her obsessions, namely a cohort of debaucherous queer artists from the 1920s and chief among them a heretofore forgotten Black Princess, Hermia Druitt. Follow the beat of peacock wings, Mathilda scams her way into an artists residency focused on all that is antithetical to her being, where she begins to uncover tantalising glimpses of the life of Hermia. Alternating between a certain historical luxuriousness and biting art world satire, von Reinhold has crafted a perfect novel with a perfect ending. Unlike many of my other favourite books, this was like an extremely decadent cake—I could only consume so much at a time before my delight would boil over and I would need to take a break to let it settle within me.

This book will be of special interest to readers of Jordy Rosenberg's Confessions of the Fox, with which is shares certain Transfixions.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
May 19, 2021
Winner of the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2021

Another book I read thanks to its nomination for the Mookse group's best of 2020 poll, so thanks to Paul for nominating it. I enjoyed reading it and found it clever and quite funny in places, but I really don't feel qualified to review it properly.

Von Reinhold's starting point is the fictional Hermia Druitt, a black poet on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group, whose circle of acquaintances are mostly real people - the premise is that as a black woman she has been written out of their history. The narrator Mathilda is drawn to her after finding a picture while working in an unofficial part time museum job. Mathilda lives a precarious life with no permanent job or residence and many ephemeral identities. While she is researching Hermia, she comes across and successfully applies for a paid position as a resident in the fictional European town of Dun where Hermia spent most of her life.

On arrival she discovers that the other residents are there for very different reasons, and are all strict devotees of the maverick art theorist John Garreaux, who founded the residency, where the artists deposit their work in an archive where it remains hidden. Mathilda manages to stay funded by the residency despite breaking its rules and following her own interests, eventually discovering the connections between Garreaux, Hermia and Lote, the hedonistic society inspired by the Greek lotus eaters which Hermia belonged to and Mathilda and her new-found acquaintances attempt to revive.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,491 reviews2,714 followers
August 9, 2022
The very fact of Druitt being more believable as an invention than a real woman who lived a life is concerning. For as much as Hermia sought to catapult herself into a life of fantasy, her reality is significant, and the inclination of society to find it difficult to picture people of colour in Europe prior to the Windrush, even fantastical individuals like Hermia, is pernicious. It is not an uncommon tendency amongst historians to find the prospect of Black lives outside of familiar narratives implausible.

I love the way von Reinhold has created a layered narrative here that is witty and crazy as well as being serious and inflected by scholarship. In parts this reminded me of Possession with the search for a lost Black poet and aesthetic artist; and in other places it recalls Hari Kunzru's Red Pill as a writing residency becomes the gateway to unexpected uncoverings of knowledge and people.

Merging real Bright Young Things and Bloomsberries with the fictional Hermia Druitt (or might someone very like her have existed only to be wiped out from literary history?) this manages to be both a romp filled with decadent excess as well as a more sobering assessment of cultural whitewashing.

This makes an exceptional partner to After Sappho, inserting race back into the recuperation of queerness and femininity.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,821 reviews1,382 followers
August 26, 2021
Now winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Britain’s oldest continuous literary prize) as well as the Republic of Consciousness Prize (one of its newest). Attrib. By Eley Williams did the same double - in a year when I helped judge the RoC. And to complete the link Eley Williams was a judge on this year’s RoC.


I read this book due to its longlisting for the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize although I already had a copy lined up to read due to enthusiastic and excellent reviews (not least from my twin brother here - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... - parts of which I have adapted for my own).

The book is first party narrated by Mathilda (although she is someone who adopts various identities and names over time – spinning plates to stop her inconsistent stories and the worlds in which she maintains them intersection).

At the book’s start she volunteers to sort through the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, and photographic material relating to the "Bright Young Things", a (real life) Bohemian group of artists and socialites in 1920s London.

Mathilda is subject to Transfixions, visions or spiritual connections with various figures from this and other groups, which she captures on cards describing both the characters and the Sensations the transfixion induces (which appears to show influence of Synaesthesia).

Amongst the photographs she finds one of an unknown black artist, which she is able, via her research into the archives, to eventually identify as the, seemingly forgotten, Scottish modernist poet, Hermia Druitt.

She also finds a link to the European town of Dun, where Druitt seemingly spent her last year's and founded an esoteric society LOTE, a queer modernist cult who (over time she finds) believed the mythical lotus-eaters were a real proto-communist society (with some form of ritualistic overtones).

To get to Dun, Mathilda bluffs (via a very odd and seemingly years out of date internet link) her way on to a Residency at a foundation which (after she joins) she finds is for followers of a theorist John Garreaux, whose aesthetic and artistic principles are the antithesis of her own and Druitt's and whose followers seem to speak in length academic nonsense.

The foundation seems to practice Garreaux’s idea of celebrating the abgenation of art – with for example the culmination of each term the submission of a project which is then placed in an archive unread (any attempt to read or evaluate the project destroying its very point).

Over time the historical (and in some ways continuing) relationship between Garreaux and Druitt, and how this may account for her erasure of the latter from the record, gives the novel its narrative tension. It seems that given Garreaux's principles of abnegation of art, he may have picked the complete historical eradication of Druitt as his first project.

An additional complexity is a character Erskine-Lily who lives in Dun and who Mathilda eventually befriends: initially when seeing Erskine-Lily Mathilda thinks they might be Hermia, later Mathilda finds he has pictures which almost seem her transfixions and then she moved on to seeing him as more of a living transfixion, before at the book's end understanding his true identity (albeit that is not clear to this reader).

The novel integrates a number of different strands - the main narrative, Mathilda's Transfixions, extracts from a (fictional) academic treatise Black Modernisms, and direct (or possibly novelistic) accounts of Druitt's own story (the title of these sections are redacted as are the title of the Transifixion card for Erskine-Lily and the reveal – but a Thought Art member – of Erskine Lily’s true identity). Again I was not sure I fully understood all of this although I think the provenance of the Druitt sections is deliberately left vague - is it flashbacks in the novel we are reading, a contemporary account, an autobiographical novel or one written by Mathilda after our novel ends. To add complexity - and confusion - on a couple of occasions Mathilda’s own story briefly merges with this account (at least typographically and possibly on her or our imagination).

This is a book which is at once extremely distinctive but also, for me at least, resonant of many other books.

It has much of the underlying “liberating the canon” worldview but also the distinctive writing style of Isabel Waidner; the complex intertextuality and artistic conspiracy theory reminded me very much of Daniel James “Ezra Maas”; the attempt to identify the way in which Black contributions and presence in (particularly European) art and art society history have been erased (via a combination of ignorant misreading of evidence and racially motivated deliberate suppression both past and present) put me in mind of some of Bernadine Evaristo’s novels and of Washington Black (albeit that concentrated on the same process in the world of science); and the German residency and intersection with some theories of art and textuality of the setting (if perhaps not the wider themes) of Hari Kunzru’s “Red Pill”.

The issue for me was that I felt that the story drew perhaps too much on some of the weaknesses of each of those books/authors as much as their strengths – and too often I found this novel close to undreadable,

This is partly I think due to its length – I think the novel would have worked much better at half the length or less (this is one area where I feel the author could learn a lot from Isabal Waidner).

The other issue I had is that the book basically features some 2020 wasters (Mathilda and Erskine-Lily basically make a living by stealing and fraud to fuel a a lifestyle of poverty combined with consumption of luxury alcoholic drinks) who are besotted with a group of rich 1920 wasters (the Bright Young Things) – and I could not find any sympathy with either group.

I also could not understand some of the choices made and felt they undermined what I saw as the author’s aims – for example an interesting discussion on whether Druitt is an elaborate hoax (like Woolf and her friends Abyssinian Princess hoax and many other examples) cleverly points out that the opposite occurs – not the invention of historical black artists but the eradication of real life ones. Except of course Druitt is fictional.

And the intellectual-guff of the Thought Art group (which I think may be for comedy value) was unfortunately indistinguishable at times for me from that of what I think was more meant to be the theory underlying the book.

Overall a fascinating and worthwhile experiment which simply did not work for me – but which I would urge others to engage with.
Profile Image for Micah.
43 reviews5 followers
February 4, 2023
"Decolonial + Decadent"

I think this book has really turned the idea of luxury into something that doesn't have to be shameful and capitalist. Van Reinhold is positing, it seems, that the baroque, decadent, ornate, and romantic does not exclusively belong to the European aristocracy and bourgeoisie. A relationship to aestheticism and devotion to beauty and ornamentation is not an aspiration to whiteness.

This is really beautiful to me. So many ideas and arguments are ones I'm familiar with from school and discussions with friends.
Profile Image for Alwynne.
644 reviews731 followers
November 5, 2021
Shola von Reinhold’s debut sets a young woman Mathilda in pursuit of obscure artist Hermia Druitt. Mathilda’s one of the precariat, black and working-class, she lives hand to mouth, distracting herself from her dull surroundings with her fascination for artists and writers of the twenties from Virginia Woolf and Stephen Tennant to Edith Sitwell, all part of her collection of sacred ‘transfixions’; then she spots Hermia in a photo taken at one of their many glittering gatherings, another young, black woman. Mathilda becomes obsessed with finding out more about Hermia, a once celebrated Scottish modernist, now completely forgotten. Hot on Hermia’s trail Mathilda finds herself at a European artists’ retreat, run by a strange sect who follow the teachings of the equally strange Garreaux – a composite figure drawn from the quirks of a range of real-life avant-garde artists and French-style theorists who excel in circulating impenetrable philosophical ideas. As Mathilda insinuates herself into the group’s inner circle, it becomes clear that Garreaux is linked to Hermia’s buried past, but how and why?

Von Reinhold uses the fictional Hermia to explore serious questions about hidden histories and the absence of black artists from the literary and artistic canon. But despite the complex issues at the novel’s heart, it’s an incredibly entertaining, often amusing story that draws on a range of influences from queer culture to Bloomsbury – the depiction of Garreaux’s devotees reminded me of Mossfegh’s dryly humorous dig at the NY contemporary art scene in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I thought this was a slightly uneven book at times, and some sections could do with more rigorous editing, but still raced through this and really enjoyed it.

Rating: 4.5
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews650 followers
February 9, 2021
This is Shola von Reinhold’s debut novel. And what a novel it is!

We begin with Mathilda Adamarola who is obsessed with her Transfixions, members of the Bloomsbury Group and the Bright Young Things in 1920s UK. Working on a placement she finds a photograph of a forgotten black Scottish modernist poet who was part of that group, Hermia Drumm and becomes gripped by her and sets about discovering her life. She blags a place on a conceptual art residency because Hermia once lived in that place.

At this stage in the book, the style reminded me very much of work by Isabel Waidner and the story reminded me (a bit) of the book I read prior to this - A Ghost in the Throat - in which a modern day poet goes in search of historical evidence of a poet hidden by historical prejudice.

Once at the residency, the book really takes flight and develops a style of its own. It follows several different themes using several different formats. There’s a kind of detective story as Mathilda, along with a character she meets, Erskine-Lily, follows the clues that emerge about Hermia and then Hermia’s connection to the residency and a secret society she learns about called LOTE. Mixed in with this are details of Mathilda’s transfixions, meditations on art/aesthetics and sections that follow Hermia’s story (the source of these sections is, I think, deliberately unclear).

For me, this is a book that requires a second reading. I have to acknowledge that I got lost a few times as I read, but I think that reading around the book and then going back to it would reveal a lot more. When I re-read it, I will do that in paper format rather than on the Kindle. I say this because the book makes use of different fonts to identify where passages belong. Most of the time, it is fairly simple to work out where something fits, but consider this from an interview with the author:

On two occasions, Mathilda’s narrative is briefly switched to third person with the typography matching that of Hermia’s narrative suggesting an act of self-mythologising – of Mathilda projecting her own existence into the mode she experiences her Transfixions. But we might also read these latter passages as Mathilda in the light of a utopian vision of Hermia’s

In that same interview, the author describes how the character of Hermia developed:

First, Hermia rose up out of an ostensible vacuum in British modernist literary history. Then her feasibility as a Black modernist poet of Scottish and Nigerian descent, living in Europe between the wars, was suggested by the existence of the various Black figures interconnected with (and foundational to) the Bloomsbury Group, the Bright Young People. Also, importantly, from lesser-known places – the so-called ‘fringes’ and lower denominations of these Groups, many of whom would not have thought of themselves as at the fringes of anything! But yes, it seemed very weird that in all of this I couldn’t find a Black British woman working in a formalist experiment. There were poets like Una Marson from Jamaica, living in Peckham, there were Black women painting and sculpting at the Slade and elsewhere, there were performers like the glorious Elisabeth Welch living in Mecklenburg square, soiréeing at the Bloomsbury and Soho bars, friends with Barbara Kerr Seymour and Kenneth Macpherson. There were Harlem Renaissance poets like Claude McKay, but I couldn’t find, specifically, a Black British woman, and it’s almost definite such a person existed, wrote a masterpiece which is maybe still in an attic somewhere — maybe there’s someone doing work on it right now. Or maybe it’s been ‘lost to history’ because of the way Black women have been deprioritised in the archive and factored out of multitudinous literary histories.

A dominant theme in the book is Eurocentrism and its influence. At one point we read: ”Documentation is regularly unorthodox or harder to come by when researching people of colour from this period, which speaks more about how society values certain lives than the veracity of their existence. And Mathilda comments on the general idea that “inessential ornament” is vulgar noting that this has its roots in a Eurocentric/colonialist dismissal of African culture.

But there are many, many other ideas that could be picked up from this book and discussed. As I’ve already said, there are echoes of A Ghost in the Throat, but there are also echoes of Mr Beethoven, also on the Republic of Consciousness long list for 2021, as von Reinhold carves out a place in our actual history and inserts another person, in this case a fictional person rather than Mr Beethoven’s “real but actually dead by then” person.

These comments only scratch the surface and miss out many of the significant things that could be mentioned in a review.

An amazing book that demands a re-read.
Profile Image for sar!.
105 reviews23 followers
May 12, 2023
4.5 stars! lush, frothy, decadent, queer and black. went on various wikipedia binges as a side effect of reading this.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,737 reviews674 followers
July 12, 2021
I spotted 'Lote' on the new acquisitions shelf in the library and recalled reading a recommendation on twitter, so I gave it a try. What an utter delight it turned out to be! An insightful, vivid, distinctive, and involving examination of art, racism, creating and discarding personae, critical theory, queerness, friendship, privilege, and obsession. Combining all these themes could have resulted in a muddle, but the writing is so clever and controlled that there is never anything of the sort.

'Lote' follows Mathilda, a young black woman fascinated by certain queer figures among the Bright Young Things of the 1920s and 30s. She has an excellent narrative voice and her Transfixions (as she calls them) are described in wonderfully visceral fashion. Her point of view is exceedingly perceptive. I particularly liked her differentiation of Utopians and Arcadians:

They were access to, glimpses of, Arcadia: The Grand Ahistorical Mythical Paradise which is the ultimate project of all Arcadian personality types who crave a paradise knit out of visions of the past much like their more illustrious cousins, Utopians, do with the future. (It - paradise - is ultimately to be a collaboration.)

Utopian personality types, as a rule, find old things redolent of decay, and just about put up with new things which are still not the future.

The classic counterpart traits of the Arcadian, like a fondness for old objects and buildings, and an inclination towards historicised figments, were, as far as I was concerned, much easier to inhabit for white people, who continued to cast and curate all the readymade, ready-to-hand visions. Being born in a body that's apparently historically impermissible, however, only meant I was not as prone to those traps that lie in wait for Arcadians - the various and insidious forms of history-worship and past-lust. I would not get thrown off track: I would rove over the past and seek out the lost detail to contribute to the great constitution: exhume a dead beautiful feeling, discover a wisp of radical attitude pickled since antiquity, revive revolutionary but lustrous sensibilities long perished.

Much of the book takes place during an artists' residency in the Netherlands that Mathilda applies for. The residency setup is a gleeful parody of dogmatic critical theory that I found very funny.

Around a decade later, Thought Art developed into something more specific with the Dun residency. The Residency ("-don't tell me you don't know this-") was in one sense an ongoing collective Thought Art performance piece to which each successive year of Residents contributed. This took the form of the White Book Project. The White Book Project culminated in the production of a work of considerable psychological and intellectual effort guided by the principles of Garreauxvian theory including 'Dotage' and 'Markation' - ways of engaging with the world as a Thought Artist.

The Conveyors were participants in this ongoing performance. Through the initial White book Submissions they were the only ones to ever look at the work. This was to make sure the artist was 'siphoning' (exerting themselves) as much as possible, otherwise the Negation would not be satisfied, as well as to guide and push the artist in correspondence with Garreaux's Lesser and Greater Principles.

Her fellow residents are all disciples of this Garreaux, whose textbook is full of concepts that make Mathilda nauseous. Yet she finds common ground with a couple of them after they discover a point of overlap in their fascinations. Mathilda's own preferred text is called Black Modernisms. Although the main body of 'Lote' is told in the first person, this is interspersed with extracts from Black Modernisms, artwork labels, and two other apparently non-existent books. One is an account of Hermia Druitt, Mathilda's most recent historical fascination, and another a seemingly romanticised novelisation of episodes in Mathilda's story. I found this diversity of styles an enjoyable way to explore the area around academic research and personal obsession.

There is a great deal else in 'Lote' that deserves further thought and will stay in my mind for a long while. Von Reinhold's writing is wonderfully adept and the whole novel neatly structured and deeply compelling. The narrative is propelled by intellectual curiosity, the desire for beauty, and yearning to escape capitalism's demands; truly an excellent combination. It's also witty and great fun. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Rosamund Taylor.
Author 1 book137 followers
July 29, 2021
A fascinating, immersive and imaginative book, this story is told by Mathilda as she tries to escape reality. All her life, Mathilda has felt hemmed in by the demands of the humdrum real world, and uses her "Transfixions" to escape. These Transfixions are usually historical figures that capture her imagination and love, often Bright Young People. Then Mathilda unearths a new Transfixion, her favourite of all: Hermia Druitt, a Black artist from the early 20th century, whose work and life seem to have been deliberately erased. This novel is an ambitious meditation on the erasure of Black lives from European history and culture, and on who preserves history, how they influence what is kept and what is lost. It is a celebration of decadence, luxury and the baroque, of unashamedly Queer lives and Queer concerns against a backdrop of Capitalist minimalism. It's also a reimagining of European decadence through the eyes of Black people. I really enjoyed the richness and scope of this novel -- at times I felt von Reinhold's ideas ran beyond their ability to capture them in prose, and Mathilda's apathy and passivity didn't sit well with the passion of the story, but overall I was enthralled. This is a truly engaging piece that is rich in ideas and atmosphere. Recommended.
Profile Image for Kai.
12 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2021
I wizzed through this and it was sooo good! especially recommend to my queer history and archive nerd friends (you know who you are)
Profile Image for Marc.
788 reviews110 followers
March 3, 2021
A smart and funny mix of theory and identity politics dealing with the erasure of black individuals and contributions from art/history. This one hit my radar solely from its inclusion on the 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist. I had never heard of the author, nor the small press, Jacaranda Books.

von Reinhold's debut novel centers around Mathilda, an Escape artist of sorts---she "escapes" in two primary ways: through dreaming/researching about her historical/spiritual idols (members of the Bright Young Things; namely, Stephen Tennant and the fictional, Hermia Druitt, the rare and elusive "Black Princess" of this 1920s' group of socialites and aristocrats) and through actually escaping employment and social situations by adopting new names and "homes." She's sort of a whip-smart squatter with a style and penchant for decadence. She also likes to sleep a lot---it's countless little idiosyncrasies like this that make this novel so unique and charming.

Mathilda escapes by getting into a residency in the town of Dun, where her idol and muse, Hermia, once dwelt. The only complication is that Mathilda doesn't really know what the residency is about, nor could she be troubled to attend the orientation. She's squeezed in by way of a late cancellation thanks to an essay she wrote that mimics the kind of art/theory rhetoric that's virtually undecipherable. Her personal interests end up somehow dovetailing with the oddball group of Thought Artists she meets. It's a movement almost anithetical to Hermia and the Lote-Os group she helped found. What follows is a kind of personal and artistic collision between philosophies, personalities, and circumstances as the negation of ornamentation and color (both figurative and literal in many senses) plays out in real time.

The nuance and complexity of this book are poorly captured above, but von Rheinhold manages to have Mathilda serve as victim, revolutionary, subject, object, and all manner of in-between. Hermia serves as a kind of symbol of the black lives/contributions completely erased by institutions and official records. And culture itself is questioned in terms of what gets enshrined as valued/documented based on who created it. And we see that certain idiosyncrasies, like sleeping a lot, might just be a result of trying to live in a society that treats you as either spectacle or disposable accessory at best.

Anton Wilhelm Amo | etui | Aurora consurgens | Enochian | Lotophagi | quaintrelle | sachertorte | tokaji | nacreous | cappae magnae | oleaginous | Queen Amina of Zazzau | Gropiusstadts

"I would not get thrown off track: I could rove over the past and seek out that lost detail to contribute to the great constitution: exhume a dead beautiful feeling, discover a wisp of radical attitude pickled since antiquity, revive revolutionary but lustrous sensibilities long perished."

"The idea was that by disappearing from the in-essential elements of one’s own life, whatever they might be, you would inevitably be brought closer to the essential: a sublime self-subtraction."

"Perhaps Lewis had been reading Hegel, who posited adornment as an undesirable primitive urge—and a feminine property of the Other. Hegel, like so many other thinkers from Plato to Adolf Loos, sought to preserve the image of an unholy triumvirate of femininity, adornment and Otherness. To the likes of Lewis, an inheritor of such concepts, Hermia embodied the dreaded intersection so openly that she undoubtedly posed something of a challenge, a threat to the established framework. The striking and intimidating sight she presented had to be demoted through such ideological manoeuvres."

"Even today, Western conceptions of eccentricity very rarely tend to encompass Black personas. This is because eccentricity is tethered to the idea of a rarefied and semi-fragile aristocracy. For it to work, unconventional elements require a foil of idealised social stability, hence why the history of eccentrics is even more populated by the white, privileged and wealthy than other histories. Wealth does not necessarily preclude eccentricity—the impoverished state of nobility is a commonly depicted form. Note that, however, without class, eccentricity loses prestige."

"We are, you know, fundamentally ornamental creatures. Especially the likes of us. And the Lotus Eaters were the arch-decorators of myth. But even the Greeks must at one point have realised the importance of ornament. They called the universe “kosmos”, meaning decoration, surface, ornament: something cosmetic. Like make-up. Like lipstick! Like rouge. The cosmos is fundamentally blusher. But then the Greeks probably got the idea from somewhere else."
Profile Image for hawk.
225 reviews23 followers
January 14, 2023
loved this fascinating novel 💙🦚
I found over the days I was reading/listening it, it kept drawing me back to it, with a feeling a little like the power some of Mathilda's Transfixions exerted over her.

the novel brilliantly combines so many threads/layers.

I really enjoyed the central character, and her kinda chaotic (but directed) path thru life and the novel.
the both serious and hilarious discussion of art and literary cultures and institutions.
the search to find and restore the hidden/excluded histories and works of Black artists and authors in Europe in the 20th century.

the search has a mystery/thriller element to it, creating a really tangible thread of tension in the novel. tho I realise this is only cos I wanted Mathilda et al to succeed, against the considerable material (and institutional) barriers.

I got pretty excited part way thru when I heard the word 'lote' first spoken aloud, and immediately made the connection in my brain with the secret society they were about to connect with 😃 I think this 'nice surprise' was largely because I hadn't heard the word in my head when I'd looked at the word on the cover in the library app - miss/reading the letters/spelling 😉🙈

I enjoyed how stylish, luxurious, and sensual the story and language were. I thought it was really well written. the writing at times conversational and matter of fact, at times poetic and dripping with colour and sensation.
there was some really great use/choice of language and words - eg the "blanching" of Hermia from history.... 💔
and there were some really good language shifts when describing the two worlds Mathilda was simultaneously inhabiting - that of the Dun residency/London/the mundane, and that of Hermia, Stephen, et al and of the imagination and the transcendental.

❤💖 gorgeously queer 💖❤
🖤🦚 Black and iridescent 🦚🖤
Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,169 reviews6 followers
February 9, 2021
3.5 rounded up to 4 stars because it is so innovative.

Since I am not going to do this book justice in my review, I going to refer to two excellent reviews right up front: Tanya's review -- https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... and Paul Fucher's review -- https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

This book was one of the 53 books nominated by members of the Mookse and the Gripes GR group as best reads of 2020. The list was compiled in early December. I had read 21 of the 53 and with three weeks left in the year, decided to see how many of the others I could read before the end of 2020. I managed another 7 and this was one of them. It was nominated by Paul Fucher who hates long books so I was sure it would be a quick read, but turns out it was over 400 pages and definitely not a quick read.

This book throw me for a loop at the beginning -- what was going on? Transfixions and Escapes? Luxury loving groups? An unknown gay, black, female poet whose work and life story have all but been erased? I doubt I understood all this book was designed to do, but it did hold my attention and its uniqueness was quite appealing.
Profile Image for Jude.
104 reviews9 followers
August 13, 2022
How can it be?—so pleasurable—so funny—a work of intimidating intelligence—yet so warm—like being with an old friend—so perfect for me—it makes me feel less alone—Where did it come from?—Will it ever be written again?—so unique—LOTE is a very good book—maybe the best one—I could cry!
Profile Image for Alison.
Author 6 books561 followers
July 5, 2021
the decade's first masterpiece.
Profile Image for Peyton.
199 reviews31 followers
December 9, 2021
This quote from Lote sums up the reading experience nicely: “I attempted to read the first paragraph, to no avail. As I suspected, it was impenetrable, the language highly unpleasant. A condensed version of the already opaque residency-speak. I did not like the way my brain passed through a sentence and came out the other side bereft and slightly anaesthetized; as if still numb from an operation, unsure what had been removed.” I read the entire book cover to cover, waiting for the story to start to make sense. Reinhold certainly has some compelling characters and ideas, but they are sabotaged by the style of prose. I recommend this book to people who enjoy cherry liqueur, which is a category of people I do not belong to.
Profile Image for J.
224 reviews21 followers
December 6, 2021
edit: upping this to 5 because I literally think and speak about this book all the time

Hnnngggg so good, reaching gloriously back into imagined/real/necessary Black archives, reminding me so strongly of similar amazing works like watermelon woman, wayward lives, trumpet

Also loving words and flounce and form and femininity and firmly yet gently saying that post modern bland concrete theory is boring and useless as shit

https://lucywritersplatform.com/2021/... this interview demonstrates shola's continued genius !!!!!
Profile Image for Siobhan.
Author 3 books85 followers
August 29, 2021
Loved this. I could write a proper review, but instead: wry, funny, too clever, made me google things and actually think whilst reading, did some Good Depicting of Gender Feelings, enjoyed all the aesthetic theory and who gets to define it.
Profile Image for Barry.
600 reviews
August 30, 2020
Quite unlike anything I've read in a long time. A beautiful, creepy, queer story about decolonising art history.
Profile Image for Jacob Wren.
Author 9 books370 followers
February 11, 2021
I thought this book was incredible. Such a brilliantly fluid mixture of sublime strangeness and on point polemic. One of the best things I've read in a very long time.
Profile Image for J.
224 reviews21 followers
June 26, 2022
Need to read every 2 years like a restorative tonic. One of the things I found refreshing and new this time was the deep queerness of this without stickiness to identity
Profile Image for Kate Cross.
76 reviews
January 8, 2023
this is my favorite novel i've read in a long long time and everything else i read this year will have a difficult time catching up to it; it's an impossible balancing act of being so many things i'm such a mark for - lost media, queer history rabbit holes, books within books (within books?). it's genuinely very funny without coming across as overly twee and challenging without being inaccessible. there's a very thin line between me loving stuff that plays around with format like this and finding it completely insufferable and never once here did it feel gimmicky to me. there's a moment towards the end where the whole thing just sort of clicked into place perfectly for me that felt so unbelievably rewarding and as much as i like almost all the books i actually finish i can't remember the last time something made me feel that way and that's the kind of feeling i want more of when i read. the ideas and the amount of them on display, as well as how easily she's able to move between them, were totally thrilling to me. idk, i had a blast with this!!!
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