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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 11, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE INVENTION OF TRUTH by Marta Morazzoni. (Knopf: $18 ; 100 pp.) In the Middle Ages, 300 women gather in a court in northern France to stitch the Bayeux tapestry. In 1879, the great art critic and historian John Ruskin returns to Amiens, France, to study the cathedral there, and to reflect on his life. One of the artists, Anne Elisabeth (the woman from Amiens), is uneasy that her husband and daughter will forget her. Morning lauds, 300 needles flashing through silk painted with pictures of battles and ships and horses. Ruskin, in his book "The Bible of Amiens," compares the outside of the cathedral to the wrong side of a piece of fabric "in which you find how the threads go that produce the inside or the right-side pattern." This is how it feels to read this book, very rich and very subtle, as we imagine these links between centuries, and also very tenuous. Morazzoni flashes back and forth between the two narratives, the woman of Amiens, Ruskin's thoughts and memories, with only the faintest effort to link them. As the women struggle with their art, "the effort toward truth," Ruskin in his old age understands the "distance between desire for possession and the capacity to attain it." What is this book about?

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