Going, going, gone...bidding war for the novel that’s an auction catalogue

First-timer’s book that charts the course of a doomed love affair is a word-of-mouth sensation

It traces the anatomy of a doomed romance, its highs and lows reflected in the shared possessions of a couple who have since parted and whose valuables are now up for sale in an auction catalogue.

And despite the absence of a literary publicity campaign, Leanne Shapton’s innovative first novel, Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, is fast becoming the biggest word-of-mouth sensation of 2009.

The illustrated book is in such demand approaching Christmas that it has been re-printed twice by Bloomsbury in just over six weeks – a highly unusual occurrence for a first-time novelist.

The story, a partially autobiographical account by Shapton, a 36-year-old Canadian-born art director at the New York Times, charts the doomed arc of a love affair between the central characters, Doolan, a food writer, and Morris, a British photographer.

Their romance is revealed through a series of 1,332 lots offered for sale at a fictitious auction house on Valentine’s Day, 2009. Each lot, including photographs (Shapton’s friends posed as Doolan and Morris), emails, letters, clothes, a cookery book and a set of aprons, reveals key moments of their passion for each other.

The reader gets to know Doolan and Morris through these shared personal effects, which are being sold off now their relationship has run its course.

The book’s rights have been bought in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, Greece, Korea and Brazil. It has also been optioned for a film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman. Julia Roberts had bid for the rights but lost out.

Despite Important Artifacts’ initial success in America, where it was launched in February, it did not attract a British publisher for several months, until Bloombury’s editor-in-chief, Alexandra Pringle, realised its potential.

Ms Pringle, who also brought Elizabeth Gilbert’s highly successful, Eat, Pray, Love, to Britain, said that once Bloomsbury realised how quickly the first print run was selling, it rushed out reprints.

“What’s happened is that it’s become a world of mouth book and it’s taken off more quickly than we had anticipated,” she said.

“I first read it on a plane and I was smitten. It doesn’t take long to read but it is just so touching that I was already thinking of buying it for this person or that person. I read every since word, including the estimated prices of the items on sale. It is visual as well as Leanne Shapton has taken the photographs.”

She added that she had received emails from novelists praising the novel, including Raffaella Barker, and William Boyd’s wife, Susan Boyd, who had bought 10 copies as Christmas gifts, as well as the columnist India Knight.

Independent booksellers including Foyles in central London and the new Notting Hill bookshop Lutyens & Rubinstein have had to re-stock the book after it sold out and several notable writers have bought multiple copies, according to Ms Pringle.

Shapton, who is engaged to James Truman, the British former editorial director of Condé Nast, said in an interview that she wrote the book “in a way to clear the way for the relationship I am now in”. She has previously written a graphic book called Was She Pretty? about a woman’s obsession with her boyfriend’s former girlfriends. She is currently writing her next “concept novel”.

Important Artifacts

An excerpt

*LOT 1104

Birthday presents, card, and note. One striped men’s shirt, label reading “Steven Alan”, size M. A gift certificate, unused, for Italian cooking lessons at the Culinary Institute. One Wimpy’s ketchup squeezer. A paperback copy of the screenplay for Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni (Modern Film Scripts, Simon & Schuster, 1971). Homemade birthday card from Doolan to Morris, dated September 6,2003. Card reads: “The catsup is for Hal of the past, the shirt is for Hal of the present, the lessons for Hal of the future. Happy 40th!” A handwritten note in ballpoint, in Morris’s script, reads in part: “Darling, Am sorry about last night, please please don’t get offended about the cake, I’ve always loathed meringue and thought I’d mention it. It looked great! And please understand I needed to spend my 40th with Jase and Toby – guy thing, God knows– but was having a wobble. Thanks for your understanding...” $50-$100 Included in lot is a photograph of a large pavlova, 4 x 6 in.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions