Friday, 18 November 2011

Painting with words

Knowing I was going to write about ‘An Equal Stillness’ as I read it, there were naturally all kinds of opening lines forming in my mind as I turned the pages, How surprised I was to find them all chased away by the simple act of reading one sentence and finding all my preconceptions about the narrative voice shattered. Not who I was expecting at all!

Which, I suppose, serves very well to emphasise the point I had intended starting with: that with a supposed seven plot lines available to a writer, it is difficult to find something fresh and captivating. That Francesca Kay manages it is clear.

To write fictional biography about well known people is a technique I admire, but to do it with a totally imagined character is intriguing and compelling. Jennet Mallow is a painter and so into the form of words there comes a need to describe her paintings – that art form one turns to when language fails in its evocable power.

It’s a quiet book, somehow almost sensuous in its descriptions: the life and work of a woman laid out, with all its imperfections, failures, successes and small moments spread out. I rarely listen to music as I read, fearing a distraction from an overloud, or wordy, piece; but this book seemed to demand a classical accompaniment: the notes seeping into my appreciation of the words and helping me see the paintings that were described. The melding of these art forms just seemed to be right on this occasion.

It’s a wonderful novel: one that will haunt with its themes of love and loss, even as we strive to imagine the paintings that are the central point of the work. Understated is the word that springs to mind when trying to describe the feeling of the novel. There are no big explosions of emotion, and that is surprising – particularly for a first novel. Francesca Kay seems to have found her voice from the outset and draws her readers into this small, but creative, world she has created.

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