A satire on the American art world: One Woman Show, by Christine Coulson, reviewed

Christine Coulson worked for more than 25 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she wrote hundreds of wall labels. In One Woman Show, her second novel, she tells the tragicomic life story of a Wasp-ish porcelain girl called Kitty Whitaker almost entirely in the same 75-word format as if she were an artwork. The 20th-century tale is presented as an exhibition, made possible, we’re told on the opening page, by ‘gin, taffeta and stock dividends’. It’s a wonderfully clever concept, and a book that lends itself to being read in a single sitting, during which you’ll feel the corners of your lips curl upwards again

What’s a scribbled signature worth?

In 2002 I was living in Berlin. One day my upstairs neighbour Peter told me he had just returned from outside the Hotel Adlon, having seen the self-proclaimed ‘King of Pop’ casually dangling a baby from a third-floor window. Peter was not there among the onlookers as a Michael Jackson fan but rather as a committed autograph collector and dealer, accustomed to haunting stage doors and hotel entrances when celebrities visited the city, tipped off by specialist monthly news-sheets giving the names, dates and locations of likely suspects. He failed to secure a signature that day, but at least witnessed one of the more notorious examples of hands-on parenting of

From family home to mausoleum: the Musée Nissim Camondo

The potter and author Edmund de Waal revisits familiar terrain at an angle in his third book, Letters to Camondo. Ten years after the publication of his debut memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, he is once again in Paris, lurking about the rue de Monceau, ruminating on dust, trying to make the dead speak. He’s particularly keen to elicit a word from Count Moïse de Camondo (1860-1935), the last patriarch of a clan of absurdly rich French Jewish bankers with roots in Constantinople. The count was a friend and neighbour of de Waal’s cousin, the art historian Charles Ephrussi, whose collection of Japanese netsuke played such a large role

Treasures or clutter? The problem of knowing what to keep

Every so often the past makes a pass at you. An old school report, a train ticket, a curl from a first haircut falls out of an envelope and sends you tumbling back through the decades. For most of us these things are flotsam and jetsam, of momentary interest, but for Rachel Morris they are vital. It is partly that she works in museums, so is deeply invested in the past, and partly that her family history is so mysterious, fragmentary and ‘soaked in sadness’ that she relies on ‘things’ to help her piece together where she came from, and who she is. This book has two strands. First, it’s