Customer Review

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We have to stop spinning occasionally � let the colours show, 5 Feb 2005
This review is from: Astonishing Splashes Of Colour (Paperback)
Astonishing Splashes of Colour was short listed for the Booker Prize - somewhat unjustifiably, because it isn't that good. Clare Morall's writing is sometimes uneven and while her strength is in character development and dialogue, her narrative and sense of structure is often stilted and not as tight as it might be. However, having said this, the book is certainly a good read, and captures with a resounding force the universality of loss and the difficulties of non-communicative families.
Astonishing Splashes of Colour is a story of heartbreak and loss, where secrets are maintained for years, and where life can often be a surreal and bizarre kaleidoscope of confusing colour.
Set in the city of Birmingham and using J. M. Barrie's Neverland as a framing device, the story centers on the unconventional Kitty and her disparate, rather eccentric family. From early on it becomes obvious that something terrible has happened to Kitty: we meet her as she waits at the school gates with all the other parents but it is readily clear that she has no child. The reader soon learns that her young son Henry died at birth three years ago and there's nothing but emptiness and barrenness in her life. A children's book critic, Kitty lives in a flat next door to her finicky obsessive-compulsive tidy husband James. They have a kind, decent marriage, but memories of her long lost mother constantly haunt Kitty, and her father and her brothers refuse to talk about her.
Part detective story and part journey of discovery, Astonishing splashes of Colour is about the connection between art, colour, and life. For Kitty, "daytime colour is just a façade, a coat of paint splashed on to fool us into thinking the world is genuine." It's as though Kitty's mother had died and taken everything of herself with her, as if she new in advance and sorted through her personal life, destroying all evidence of her existence. Kitty must uncover the truth about her mother, and also her long-lost sister Dinah, so that she can piece together these missing parts to make her life more whole again.
Kitty is such a complex and beautifully drawn character that readers will immediately emphasize with her plight. She aches to have a child but she only knows children in books, having adventures, discovering things, and thinking things. She likens herself to the lost boys in Peter Pan and because she grew up without a mother, she feels she's lost - "nobody can guide me back to the right place, because there's nobody who can give me what I want."
As the narrative progresses and the family skeletons are revealed, the colours of life begin to blur too fast, shattering Kitty's already rickety and shaky world. And while her father tries to tell her to be bold by putting all the colours in and mixing them up, "because colour is life," Kitty inevitably begins to fall apart and starts to act out bizarre and desperate behaviour resulting in chaos for all around her.
The novel is full of drama, heartache, and lots of surprises that most viewers will not see coming. And while, at times, the novel may read like a trumped up version of the Eastenders, Astonishing Splashes of Colour is still a compulsive and ultimately satisfying read, where the line between sanity, madness, world-weariness and childlike naivety is explored with great creative and literary skill. Mike Leonard February 05.
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