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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative and intriguing
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...
Published on 26 Mar 2006

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A story of a painting
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...
Published on 5 Jan 2011 by surevu


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A story of a painting, 5 Jan 2011
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
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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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative and intriguing, 26 Mar 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Hardcover)
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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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back on form, 4 April 2006
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Hardcover)
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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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 (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
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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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 6 April 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Hardcover)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A picture by Gwen John, 17 Feb 2010
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the love of Rodin, 28 Feb 2010
By 
Isola (Wiltshire UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
After reading 'Keeping the World Away' I couldn't stop thinking about it. The novel is a fictional account of the travels of an actual painting by Gwen John and what it means to the lives it touches. The small canvas, a still life of a corner of the artist's attic studio is painted for her lover Rodin, the notorious sculptor for whom she models, to show him her true inner self. Rodin never sees the painting and over a period of 100 years, it falls into the hands of six women, all searching for more independence and meaning in their exsistence.

Forster's rendition of Gwen John's life is painstakingly researched and the book is written in an easy and unpretentious style. Within the series of well developed plot lines connecting the characters, who are all drawn together by a shared spirit, there could have been too many coincidences to be acceptable, but the author doesn't neglect to tie her loose ends together.

There is a better view of this small piece of work on the internet; the one on the back cover of my paperback reflects entirely different colours. I would love to see and touch the original painting, that's how much I loved 'Keeping the World Away'.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The memory of it floating in her mind, the image of it, the atmosphere, the spell it had cast over her.", 5 Sep 2007
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
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.

Charlotte desires to be married to art and clearly sees herself as an artist and her hunger for the painting is passionate, making her tearful with "the empty chair, the poor little table with its pitiful posy of lowers, the bare window draped with that misty net." For this impressionable young girl, who aches for her father to send her to art college, the painting speaks of lonliness and despair, and an emotion that irrevocably chokes her throat.

As the twentieth century moves on, various other women - and indeed some men - come into contact with the painting as it builds an assemblage of romance and tragedy, its image and its atmosphere effectively casting a sort of spell over all who come to possess it. For the reclusive Stella, ensconced in Cornwall, the painting fills her was a strange yearning for something unobtainable. Desperate to get away from her friend who was emotionally and physically scarred from the Great War, and also reeling from an affair with a neighbor, the painting forces her to ready herself for a new beginning thousands of miles away.

For Lucasta,who waits for her brother to return from the War in the Pacific, the picture represents a sadness and a gentle wistfulness, perhaps the reflection of an aching heart. On the other hand Ailsa, a grieving widow, reteats to a remote Island off the coast of Scotland to begin again. The painting that her husband so loved, forces her to live in the present, and hold off her memories of her failed marriage: "you spoiled our marriage, which is something, I cannot, even now forgive you for."

Each woman's life choices are prompted by an emotion and an instinct, which seems to be silently buried deep within the painting. Consequently, the story is all about the sometimes-inexplicable bond that exists between art and life and that the fact the spirit of the artist is always embodied in their work. Certainly, while the painting inspires certain characters to make radical changes to their lives, others just cannot understand its appeal.

But perhaps it is the young and pretty Gillian, an art student who travels to Paris, who most reconnects with the painting because it was once owned by her grandmother. Out of all the women, it is Gillian who feels there is a life outside the painting, which is only just being hinted at. And as the ownership of it comes full circle, author, Margaret Forster beautfully presents this rarified world where art readily brings forth the spirit of things, expressing beauty of every sort, including line and form, and most importanty, emotion.

With it's six degrees of separation-like qualities and its themes of how art can ultimately speak from the soul, the novel shows how Gwen John's passion and her suffering have reverberated down through the twentieth century and also thoughout the various generations of these women. Mike Leonard September 07.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Very boring - a big disappointment, 19 Nov 2014
This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
I had been looking forward to reading this book but was, sadly, so disappointed. Ah - a picture by Gwen John - I thought I might learn a little about her work - but virtually nothing about it and even the tiny picture on the back of the book did nothing for me.
Then I found each section about the characters who came into contact with the picture to be more and more boring - just tedious descriptions of their houses and families whom I steadily cared less and less about. It was a struggle to finish. A pity as it was a good idea for a novel but which just didn't work for me.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alone, but not lonely, 10 Jan 2008
By 
Elaine Simpson-long (Colchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Keeping the World Away (Paperback)
This book tells the story of a painting, how it came to be painted by a woman living alone in an attic room in Paris and its adventures, the various people who come to own it and the one thing they have in common - they like and wish to be alone, to keep their separateness, their own personality. None of these women are in any way reclusive or selfish, they have relationships, they have friends, they have family, but ultimately realise that they are happy alone.
The painting is by Gwen John, a British painter who died in 1939, sister of Augustus John, about whom I am ashamed to say, I know little. Apparently "Her choice of subject-matter throughout her career remained based on the figure - usually a single figure, and usually a woman in an interior".
The story opens with a young art student, Gillian, viewing a painting in a gallery and wondering about its history. Not the history in a catalogue or book, but its domestic history. Who had owned it? What were the feelings of the people who had hung it on its walls, had they appreciated it or taken it for granted? This is a very intriguing thought. It is well known that Van Gogh never sold any of his painting while he was alive so one assumes they were in a corner unappreciated and ignored. He gave paintings away in settlement of tradesman's bills or just to free up some space in his studio, so what did the recipients think of them? I look at my print of the Yellow Room or Sunflowers and while I love them (Van Gogh is my favourite painter), I am not sure that any recipients of any of his paintings felt that here was a work of genius. They were probably propped up on the mantelpiece or forgotten or used as a doorstop or something of that kind. Would I recognise such a painting if given to me - I very much doubt it.
Margaret Forster has woven a simply wonderful story around this painting. Her last novel Diary of an Ordinary Woman, I found slightly disconcerting as at first appearance it appears a non-fiction book, but then discovered it was not. It had the same mixture of reality and fiction as Keeping the World Away but this time I had no problem with it.
I have been reading Margaret Forster for some forty years now and I think this is her best book yet. I daresay this is because I feel a connection with all the women in this story and understand their feelings which is, of course, is what a book is meant to do, engage the reader and make them feel that the author understands them perfectly across the paperback last week. I am very glad I picked it up.
"It has a history. I don't know what it is, but something is there, more than the paint on the canvas. Don't you think so? Don't artists want to put more than the paint on the canvas?"
One of her best books
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Keeping the World Away
Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster (Paperback - 1 Mar 2007)
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