The Archivist
July 13, 2021

Book Review

The Archivist

reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo



a person who maintains and is in charge of archives.

The Archivist is one of those novels that is so original and unique, that it is hard to put down. Any historian, librarian, or book lover will be pulled in from the first page. Rex Pickett has written a gorgeous tale, set in La Jolla, California, a sunny and beautiful locale in direct contrast to the very dark subject matter.

Emily Snow is the archivist and has been transferred from her usual assignment at Henry Ransom in Austin, Texas to the beautiful locale of La Jolla, California to archive the works of Author Raymond West at Regents, a prestigious university. Emily is quirky and a misanthropist. She also has Misophonia, which is a diagnosis of someone who becomes outraged at small noises, such as a clock ticking or the hum of an air conditioner. She discovers quickly that her predecessor, Nadia Fontaine, has passed away under suspicious circumstances. In fact, the project is not complete because she drowned in a “surfing accident.” As Emily digs deeper, she discovers an affair between Raymond West and Nadia in addition to a book they wrote together, aptly named The Archivist. A book that may have resulted in Nadia’s murder.

Emily is only one of the many interesting characters Rex Pickett has created in this novel. I really enjoyed her sarcasm and elitist attitude. She was very good at standing up for herself and seemingly afraid of no one. Her misophonia is a genuine issue in the book and her subsequent rage at small noises was fascinating to read about. Raymond West is also compelling as the very secretive and entirely broken author and professor, who longs for Nadia and feels consuming guilt for her death. Joel is Emily’s coworker in special collections, an unambitious surfer and pot smoker, who was deeply in love with Nadia but never told her. Helena is the director of the Special Collections section of the library where the archive is located. A woman who has spent 35 years working towards the goal of a brand new library section on the 8th floor and will stop at nothing to ensure it happens. Elizabeth West, the wealthy scion and mayoral candidate married to Raymond, will donate 25 million to ensure her best friend’s dream of a new section of the library.

A fair warning that The Archivist is over 700 pages though it does not feel that long to the reader. There are some parts that become bogged down in minutia and academic wordage but Rex Pickett has described in great detail the world of archivists and the authors they process. There is some grandiosity typical in the world of academia but it is not overdone. His descriptions of the architecture of the library and the small town of La Jolla are incredible with detail. This all-consuming novel was a fascinating delve into the dark side of academia.

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