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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful account of two artists and one 'almost' artist and their lives. Madden makes the art works created by all three of these characters: Roderic the famous painter, Julia the young artist just starting out and William the lawyer who wishes he'd been a painter from the start, wonderfully convincing, and writes very thoughtfully and realistically about the difficulties, and pleasures, of life as a creative artist. I loved the depiction of the relationship between Roderic and the much younger Julia (it's lovely to have the relationship between an older man and a younger woman written about so tenderly and sensitively). And she's wonderfully sensitive about Roderic's earlier marriage and its end too, showing how two basically decent people can just be 'wrong' for each other as partners, how ever much they are initially attracted to each other. Madden brought both these characters, and the tormented William (whose inner misery makes him such a dangerous man to others) wonderfully to life, as she did so many of the other characters in this book: Denis, Roderic's desperately shy brother, who can only find an outlet for his emotions in hill-walking and classical music, Liz, William's intelligent and brave wife (who William never bothers to really get to know), Roderic's family in Italy (his marriage ends in alcoholism and divorce - his relationship with Julia signals a new beginning for him), Dan, Julia's history-loving father, who has coped valiantly with being a widower and made his daughter into, in Roderic's words 'a beautiful and original young woman' - and lots more. The descriptions of Ireland and Italy are also wonderful, as if Madden has become influenced by art in her writing. A real treat of a book - Madden's absolutely best novel.
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The main focus of this novel, which has a theme of painting and other kinds of artworks are the brothers, Roderic and Dennis, and Julia, also a painter, who has a protracted affair with Roderic.
It is set in Ireland and Italy for the most part, and Italy is where Roderic meets Marta whom he marries and has three daughters. Serena, Allegra and Oriana. Roderic is an artist who works in both Ireland and Italy, while his brother Dennis is a banker. The novel begins with an episode in a park, when Julia responds to a man sitting, shaking, as if terrified, on a park bench. This is William. He is having a kind of breakdown and Julia takes him to his home, briefly meeting his wife, Liz.

The sequences nicely develop and are well handled, though a few are not treated chronologically. Characterisation is very good, but for my tastes there are a few too many instances of epiphany, or illusionistic visions, particularly when, for instance, Frank, Dennis and Roderic's father, appears in a pub as the brothers sit having a drink on the day of his funeral. Only Roderic sees this vision and is not in the least frightened by it.

One cannot help liking Roderic, even though he is a womaniser. His reliance on his brother to buy one of his paintings when he is broke is another instance of his ambivalence though in fact the relationship between the brothers is one of the best things in the book.

When he is well again, William makes friends with Julia, though this probably does not develop into more than friendship. Roderic warns Julia, predicting what will happen to her friendship with William - and he is right. There are a great many sequences describing artwork, which I particularly enjoyed, but there is also a feeling that Roderic is someone one might enjoy more as a friend than as a lover. I've left a great deal out in this review because the exposition is inward rather than full of events, but none the worse for that. But this is a warm book, for the most part, and the characters are very well created and sustained throughout. Most enjoyable.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2004
A marvellous book.
A story of perhaps 3 artists; A mature man who have survived his demons, a young woman discovering herself daily, and a mature man who ignored his instincts until perhaps too late.
This a charming\bruising\clearsighted account of 3 vulnerable, very different people, who lives intertwine for a few months.
An excellent book and worth reading in these busy busy times.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2003
This was a very strange read and I am not entirely sure what to make of it. It seemed to be very well written in the beginning, but the more I read, the more I became slightly irritated by how overwritten it actually was. Some sentence construction was unneccessarily complicated, forcing the reader to read sentences over again to make sense of them. While I am quite happy to do that for Shakespeare, it seemed a bit pretentious in a contemporary novel.
The story got off to a great start with lots of sparky and interesting characters, and Ms Madden's knowledge of art and the life of a working artist in modern Dublin was very impressive.
But as the tale was told, I found myself wanting to know more about the supporting characters than the main protagonists of the story and the constant going back and forwards in time became annoying. I never felt that we really got to know what caused Roderic's breakdown, why Julia couldn't remember her mother, why Dennis had chosen such a solitary life and I found William to be a conundrum.
Having said all that, it was quite an enjoyable read with a fantastic sense of place and I would definitely read more by the author.
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