All the Beauty in the World by Patrick Bringley


It’s hard to imagine a better audiobook than this one; hearing a deeply personal memoir read by the author reflecting on his brother’s death and on being a guard for ten years in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as he healed was great.

The author had been a staffer at The New Yorker at the time of his brother’s death in 2008. His job was to work with eminent writers as an event planner. After his devastating loss, he wanted a straightforward job with quiet time built in.

The stories of being employed in such a distinctive and unusual workplace were entertaining. It’s fun to learn the oddities of such a job, for example, that the guards are given an $80 stipend to spend on socks each year. He learns on the first day from a trainer that assignment in the Old Masters wing is good as the floors there are wooden and twelve hours on a wooden floor is like eight hours on marble.

But of course it’s what he says about the art that’s important. This is what he says about the painting “Portrait of a Man” by Titian:

…I can’t feel that I am looking at a single frozen moment in time. In the painting time appears to have pooled instead of frozen, as if past and future are subsumed by the vital present or as if there were a part of this young man exempt from time’s pitiless arrow and that is what Titian painted. To a degree there’s a material explanation for the portrait’s uncanny quality. Titian built the painting using layer after layer of semi-transparent glazes through which light streams, reflects, and refracts with a constant freshness. But I also can’t get away from the feeling it stirs in me. The picture is so beautiful, so tenderly flush with life that it seems to be itself living, living memory, living magic, living art, whatever you’ll consent to call it, it looks as whole, bright, irreducible, and unfading as I would wish the human soul to be.

What a lovely book about his terrible loss and finding beauty and solitude as a way to heal.

Patrick Bringley, All the Beauty in the World, Simon & Schuster, 2023, 226 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available in the public library.

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