The Arms of the Infinite
Elizabeth Smart and George Barker
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$29.95 Paper, 258 pp.
The Arms of the Infinite takes the reader inside the minds of author Christopher Barker’s parents, writer Elizabeth Smart (By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept) and poet George Barker. From their first fateful meeting and subsequent elopement, Barker candidly reveals their obsessive, passionate, and volatile love affair.
He writes evocatively of his unconventional upbringing with his siblings in a shack in Ireland and, later, a rambling, falling-down house in Essex. Interesting and charismatic figures from the literary and art worlds are regular visitors, and the book is full of fascinating cameos and anecdotes.
World rights except United Kingdom.
Primarily a photographer, Christopher Barker is also a writer, whose article Life at Tilty Mill, featured in Granta (2002), formed the basis for this book. The Arms of the Infinite was first published in the United Kingdom in 2006.
“This book is enormously loving and forgiving: a really honest tribute to his creative and wayward parents; an important record of their turbulent times and now one of my favourite books.”
— Fiona Green, Camden New Journal
“One of the pleasures of this memoir is to see how the work of Elizabeth Smart still thrives; it is heartening to witness Christopher Barker consort with his mother’s words and add a cool quantity of his own, finally getting a word in, one might say, in a conversation that cancelled the children too many times.”
— Andrew O’Hagan, London Review of Books
“Barker’s memoir is a heartbreaking and loving portrait of his parents and their stormy relationship.... A lively and lovely memoir.... There are things a child can tell you that a biographer can’t, and this book provides an excellent counterpoint to Toronto writer Rosemary Sullivan’s biography By Heart: Elizabeth Smart, a Life (1991), Kim Echlin’s lovely Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity (Toronto, ON: Women’s Press, 2004), and Smart’s own writing.”
— Rob McLennan, rob mclennan’s blog
“A moving account of a man returning to his child self, trying to understand his absconding father, and of an adult searching to forgive.”
— Rosemary Sullivan, author of By Heart: Elizabeth Smart, a Life
“Photographer and writer Christopher Barker is the son of Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart and British poet George Barkernames not so familiar to American readers, which in the case of Smart is unfortunate, since her 1945 prose-poem By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is a raw, throbbing nerve-ending of a love story, brilliantly constructed and managed. Smart’s novel related the beginning of her exceedingly complicated and lifelong affair with the hard-drinking, hard-living George, who was married when the affair began, and then divorced, and the married againall while still involved with Smart.... The most wrenching part of The Arms of the Infinite is the author’s analysis of the fate of his sister, Rose, whose life, for their mother, became a ‘a birth too far’ from any support not already given over to sustaining Barker and supporting three other children. An alcoholic and heroin addict, she died from the tragically inevitable collapse of her liveras well as a confluence of metaphors too numerous to list hereand the book ends, not with the deaths of writers Elizabeth Smart and George Barker, but with a photo of Rose, young and beautiful, and her daughter, Claudia. It is the image of passion’s sacrifice that has the last word here, and fittingly.”
— Sharon Mesmer, Rain Taxi