13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2011
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 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.
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2006
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.
49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 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.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2008
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.
53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2006
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2010
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'.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2010
This is as one would expect from Margaret Forster a highly polished novel with a historical bent. This time she takes Gwen John the lesser know sister of Augustus as her starting point and skilfully crafts a novel around a work she did whilst in Paris under the spell of Rodin. However the novel is more about the seemingly insignificant picture itself and its effect on the various women who encounter it along their life's paths.
It is a fascinating insight into life,love and the artistic creativity to which the various female characters aspire. The male characters framing the scenario which each of the women involved enter as the book progresses and the picture is passed along through time and varied experiences.
I would highly recommend this to any of Margaret Forster's fans and I am sure it has and will gain her many more.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2007
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.
on 19 July 2012
'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 Margaret Forster since the late nineteen sixties. This is not an exaggeration, I find her work just as appealing now as I did all those years ago. What makes 'Keeping The World Away' so fascinating is the fact that it has taken the painting of a real life artist Gwen John(1876-1939) as its subject with the novels title coming from the artist's own notebooks. She was a known recluse and to quote from those notebooks "Rules to Keep the World Away: Do not listen to people more than is necessary; do not look at peoplemore than is necessary ; have as little intercourse with people as possible".
I like stories where the author has used characters from real life inspiration as although it is fiction I still feel I am learning something from reality at the same time. For example reading this novel has led me to research about the artist.
The story is divided into six sections to track the paintings journey and Forster manages to link each one by an almost imperceptible link known only to the reader. The journey starts with the paintings artist Gwen John herself before she has produced this small and intimate painting of the attic room, where she spends so much time waiting for her lover Rodin. A complex and determined young woman from an artistic background, Gwen had persuaded her father to let her study at the Slade, which led her to later live in Paris and become a model for the great master Rodin.
Gwen gifts the painting to a close friend and hence we move on to the next woman in the story, although not the one you might expect. Owned by five women, Gwen, Charlotte, Stella, Lucasta, Ailsa and Gillian whose lives the painting touches as it is lost, found, sold, bought, inherited, given away and stolen. You learn how this painting affects their respective lives as each woman has an interesting connection to the previous one. I felt the story flowed across the time period exceptionally well, leaving me with the feeling that the painting had done the job the artist originally intended. Which was of course to keep the world away, even if only for those few cherished moments when one was gazing at it.
As I said at the start of my review an original read that I think will appeal to anyone that enjoys art and creative women. Margaret Forster draws you into the lives of these women, especially as the source of the story is all based on a wonderful little painting.