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Keeping the World Away [Paperback]

Margaret Forster
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2007

Lost, found, stolen, strayed, sold, fought over... This engrossing, beautifully crafted novel follows the fictional adventures, over a hundred years, of an early 20th-century painting and the women whose lives it touches.

It opens with bold, passionate Gwen, struggling to be an artist, leaving for Paris where she becomes Rodin's lover and paints a small, intimate picture of a quiet corner of her attic room.

Then there's Charlotte, a dreamy intellectual Edwardian girl, and Stella, Lucasta, Ailsa and finally young Gillian, who share an unspoken desire to have for themselves a tranquil golden place like that in the painting.

Quintessential Forster, this is a novel about women's lives, about what it means and what it costs to be both a woman and an artist, and an unusual, compelling look at a beautiful painting and its imagined afterlife.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099496860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099496861
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Forster's style is easy and unpretentious. In a brief paragraph she can create a character we care about, a story we long to see resolved" (Sue Gaisford Independent on Sunday)

"Few authors share Margaret Forster's extraordinary ability to transform the ordinary day-to-day activities of unremarkable people into compelling fiction" (Daily Mail)

"A fine novel... an inspired reflection on the redemptive potential of art" (Mail on Sunday)

"The characters are fully developed and differentiated...there is harrowing emotional insight; it also contains elements of real comedy" (Matthew Dennison The Times)

"Her historical skills are, as always, matched by her marvellous empathy... A finely crafted novel" (Sunday Times)

Book Description

'Forster-lovers will not be disappointed by her depiction of a cornered creativity and its persisting power to subvert and enchant' - Sally Vickers, Guardian

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A story of a painting 5 Jan 2011
By surevu
I must admit I'm not one for romantic soppy novels, so, when I read the dust jacket notes for this book I was unconvinced this would not descend into that sort of a book.
I was, however pleasantly surprised. A lot of research had been done into the art world of the 19th and early 20th century which coloured the whole atmosphere of this work and made it a very plausible story. The author carries the reader along on a journey from painter via various owners, of a painting which has a profound effect on all of them. It is well told and easy to read, I can't honestly say that it was a 'can't put it down' book,for me, but it is well constucted.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative and intriguing 26 Mar 2006
By A Customer
A beatifully wrought story of a seemingly modest but intriguing work of art making its way through the 20th century, and touching the lives of different women along the way. The concept may seem academic, but Forster's perception, zest and powers of empathy make it a delightful and surprising journey, peopled with characters it is delightful to stay with. A very satisfying read from one of our best living authors.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back on form 4 April 2006
Margaret Forster is right back on form with this novel. I was sadly disappointed with her last one Is There Anything You Want but Keeping The World Away is a brilliant return to form. The story of the painting and the women whose lives it touched was grippint, like a short series of linked novellas, the women all very different but all connected through ownership of a small painting.
This book makes it clear why Margaret Fiorster is one author whose novels I will always buy as soon as they come out, she is incapable of writing a bad book, her disappointing novel was only disappointing against her usual high standards but still a book lesser authors would struggle to write.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful 6 April 2006
By A Customer
A novel following the journey of a small but intriguing painting through the 20th century, this could have been a weighty, academic or predictable novel. In Forster's hands it is affecting, intruiging and powerful - all of this achieved without recourse to mannerism, bodice-ripping or other devices common to historical fiction. Few living writers are as effortlessy persuasive as Forser, whether on the subject of art or the perspectives of women through time. This is a literary novel, but at the same time a great and surprising read. I loved it.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting story, utterly absorbing 11 Jan 2008
By Suzie
Until now I was never a great fan of Margaret Forster but I found this book utterly absorbing. The effect of a seemingly unassuming little painting on the women whose lives it touches makes fascinating reading. Each of the characters is convincingly drawn and in such detail that, unlike other books of this type where, just as I become interested, the main protagonist disappears from the pages to be replaced by a stranger, here the transition is so seamless that I barely missed the previous character before becoming immersed in the next.

The story is laced with coincidences - generally best avoided in literature as they can seem contrived. The chance of two identical Harrods trunks appearing in lost property at Victoria Station is quite plausible - most travellers returning from Paris to London in the early 20th Century would have passed through Victoria Station, and the stylish traveller would doubtless choose a trunk from Harrods. But the chance meetings between women who owned the painting (I can't say more without giving away details of the story and possibly spoiling it for those who've not yet read the book) could have felt contrived. Instead, they provided a poignant strand linking the women's stories. How little they realised how close they came to the painting they had lost!

For me it was a haunting story that has stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Margaret Forster fans will love it anyway. But if, like me, you have found some of her other work lacking that special 'something', give this book a try. It's special. I loved it and thoroughly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A picture by Gwen John 17 Feb 2010
I am a fan of Margaret Forster so I read this book expecting to enjoy it and I did enjoy it very much. This fictional story starts with a very factual character, the artist Gwen John, sister to her more famous artist brother Augustus John.

A simple picture painted by Gwen John is the theme running through this book from beginning to end, and what happens to this picture as it is handed down (often in mysterious circumstances) to different generations of women over a period of more than 100 years.

How one little picture happens to be transported from France to London to Cornwall to a remote Scottish island, back to London and ultimately to France is intriguing to say the least. And all one can actually know about this picture is a small rendering of it on the front cover of the book. I looked up on the internet to find out where the picture is now but apparently it is currently in the hands of a private owner.

I found the book to be a real page turner and so most interesting and entertaining.

I now look forward with relish to reading Margaret Forster's two later novels.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The novel Keeping the Word Away is based upon a painting by Welsh artist, Gwen John (1876- 1939). John was born in Haverfordwest, Wales, but the family moved to Tenby in Pembrokeshire following the mother's premature death in 1884. Gwen studied at the Slade School of Art in London andthen moved to Paris, where in 1906 she began modelling for the sculptor Auguste Rodin and eventually became his mistress.

It is here in Paris where all of the passions of this aloof and detached artist are finally unleashed. She feels herself bewitched, enchanted and changed utterly from a lonely young woman when her lust for the great Rodin becomes a volcanic force within her. The affair is tempestuous and all-consuming, but when Rodin eventually tires of her, this painting truly takes on a world of its own.

The distraught Gwen brings all of her creative talents going into the painting, with its empty chair, the parasol leaning against it, and the table bare, except for the flowers in the corner of the room, Indeed all of her feelings and emotions, all her ideas and plans, all her hopes and fears, and of course, all the turmoil within her becomes embodied in this work, "everything that represents all of the precious longing for her beloved "maitre."

When the painting is finished, Gwen gifts it to her best friend Ursula, who feels such pain for her friend. The work, however, goes missing when Ursula packs it in her valise, thinking that it will be quite safe. Suddenly the painting turns up in England and into the hands of the clever and particular Charlotte who, with the help of her devoted father, rescues it from Tenby train station's lost property department.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book
This is a super story set over a long time period but having one constant element - the painting. Brilliant
Published 2 months ago by Helen Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever!
Skillful use of fact and fiction following the progress of a 'little' painting by Gwen John. A nice little read and so well written. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Shish62
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well imagined story of a small canvas that passes through the lives of several women. What it means to be an artist.
Published 7 months ago by Mrs A L Biggins
5.0 out of 5 stars Very worthwhile read.
Always know I'll be entertained by Margaret Forster, She looks at life in a quirky way at times and finds something fascinating to write about. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. M. Fowler
5.0 out of 5 stars margaret forster
Another great book by this author. Well worth reading. Ms Forster can always be relied upon for a good read.
Published 8 months ago by Kathleen Parkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Margaret Forster
I have never been disappointed by Margaret Forster. This novel mixes fact with fiction and is fascinating as well as beautifully written.
Published 8 months ago by Dover client
4.0 out of 5 stars Keeping the World Away
Interesting; bur am only half-way through. A bit weird but
Margaret Foster is always a good story teller, and I look forward
to her books.
Published 9 months ago by Trudydum
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster
A very good book. A fictionalised journey of a still life by Gwen John painted when she was a pupil of Rodin, and its various owners in the early 20th century. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mary Lane
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing read
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. If, like me you are no fan of 'chic lit' or the ubiquitous romantic novel then this is for you. Read more
Published 13 months ago by shepherdess
5.0 out of 5 stars An Original and Fabulous Read
'Keeping The World Away' is a novel about a painting and the women whose lives it touches, original and a fabulous read, a perfect example of why I have been enjoying the novels of... Read more
Published 21 months ago by LindyLouMac
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