Marion Coutts

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Photograph: Alice Rosenbaum

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Assistant: Seren Adams

Books

Marion Coutts is an artist and writer. She works in sculpture, film and video and has exhibited widely, nationally and internationally. In 2003-4 she was the Kettle¹s Yard Fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, and previous residencies include Tate Liverpool and The British School at Rome. Marion was married to the art critic Tom Lubbock who died in 2011 and she wrote the introduction to his memoir Until Further Notice, I am Alive, published by Granta in 2012. She is the editor of his essay anthology English Graphic, published by Frances Lincoln in October 2012. She is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College. She lives in London with her son.

Her mesmerising memoir, THE ICEBERG, was published by Atlantic in July 2014 to rave reviews and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, the Costa prize and the Duff Cooper prize. It won the Wellcome Book Prize 2015

Praise for THE ICEBERG (2014):

'It is a memoir quite unlike any other. It has the strength of an arrow: taut, spiked, quivering, working to its fatal conclusion… An extraordinary story told in an extraordinary way' Sunday Times

'Intimate and unflinching, this is a stunning record… miraculous… magnificent… [Marion] chooses her words with such beautiful scrupulousness, never twisting or turning the knife of her story to exact our pity or admiration; her thought is like sensation, her descriptions of feeling are often like notes for a visual work' Guardian

'An exquisitely expressed portrait of three lives operating in the shadow of catastrophe…in a language that is as vivid as it is poetic. The Iceberg is a book about death, certainly, but it’s also about survival. The miracle here is not only in Coutts coming through such an ordeal, but in finding the wherewithal to observe it, unpick its complex psychology, and commit it to paper. This is human trauma, profoundly and beautifully told' Fiona Sturges, Independent

'Coutts's prose blinds and burns you, but it is also purifying. It is like that moment when an optician finally drops in the correct lens and you suddenly read the chart to the final line. What shimmers even more brightly than Coutts's honest is the force behind it: the quality of her love for her husband and son, and the intensity of their love for her... The book's truth is so pure and compressed, as though Coutts had condensed the coal of her experience into a diamond. Encountering it is like a near-death experience, at once traumatic and profoundly, permanently illuminating. Love itself is in these pages: not a representation of love, but love, pure and simple. The book reeks of it' New York Times 

'[T]he most moving book I have read in some time... It is a harrowing read, as you would expect, but also beautifully written and intensely powerful' Bill Bryson, Wellcome Prize Judge 2014

'[The Iceberg] has the power to astound… A marvellous book… it ought to be read by anyone who ever pauses to consider our mortality' Telegraph

'Lyrical, textured, perfectly paced… [A] startlingly beautiful and inspiring pioneer text' Marcus Field, Independent

'An exquisitely expressed portrait of three lives operating in the shadow of catastrophe…in a language that is as vivid as it is poetic. The Iceberg is a book about death, certainly, but it’s also about survival. The miracle here is not only in Coutts coming through such an ordeal, but in finding the wherewithal to observe it, unpick its complex psychology, and commit it to paper. This is human trauma, profoundly and beautifully told' Fiona Sturges, Independent

'This book bowls me over with its beauty and profundity, and it seems a new kind of thinking in itself, a work of word art unlike any other' Laura Cumming

'Seeing is an action, Marion Coutts says, like aiming or hitting. And writing, in her hands, becomes yet more so, harsh and fierce and beautiful in this shocking book' Jenny Turner 

'Dazzling, devastating... Coutts achieves something extraordinary - she's created one of the most haunting and achingly honest explorations of grief in recent memory... The Iceberg doesn't merely represent what it sets out to depict; it deftly communicates the emotional truth behind it' LA Times

'Poignant and powerful... Coutts' memoir unfolds in the most breathtaking, heart-stopping prose. She tells it like it is, brutally and unflinchingly, but her original thoughts, acute observations, candid feelings and brittle poetry combine to work wonders, compelling the reader to salute her and accompany her to the book's tragic end. [The] last 10 pages could be the most moving you will encounter all year. We close her book and emerge stuned yet transformed from a singular reading experience' Star Tribune

 

Non-Fiction

Publication DetailsNotes
2014

Atlantic Books (UK), Grove Atlantic (US), Dioptrias (Spain), Mobius (Taiwan)

In 2008 the art critic Tom Lubbock was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

He died early in 2011.

Marion Coutts was his wife.

The Iceberg is Marion Coutts’ response to her husband’s diagnosis, illness and death. The tumour was located in the area controlling speech and language and would eventually rob him of the ability to speak. In short bursts of beautiful, textured prose, Coutts uses words as a weapon against loss.

The Iceberg is an exploration of the impact of death in real time, a sustained act of looking that only ends when life does. It gives an account of a small family unit under assault, and the inventiveness by which they tried to stay together. It charts the deterioration of Tom’s speech even as it records the developing language of his child. It navigates with great power the journey from home to hospital to hospice.

This is a highly visual book, written by a visual artist. Written with great narrative force, it is candid and illuminating. Fury, selfishness, grief, indignity, impotence, all are examined and brought to light. Yet out of this comes a rare story about belonging. It speaks of an ‘adventure of being and dying’. The book becomes a celebration, of friends, art, work, happiness, love and language.