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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 21 January 2009
I love the title of this book, counterpoised against the more well-known phrase - "an equal music" - from one of Donne's sermons, suggesting that the novel's journey will be a journey from uncertainty in negotiating the world outside oneself - parents, lovers, children, friends, success, failure - towards inner equilibrium. The main character is an artist - reserved, self-effacing, discriminating and, of course, amazingly talented! Her story is told by another voice, one which is able to share the artist's vision and describe as through her eyes, what she loves to look at and paint, until word, colour object become miraculously interwoven, suggesting the very texture of her paintings. The book is radiant with the love of the language of colour - a vast palette of pigments and hues, a continuous search for the exact words to describe the ever-changing landscape of city, country, sky and sea. The book is absorbing and the kind of novel you keep reading til you reach the last page, knowing then that you will surely go back and read it again.
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on 23 May 2009
This fictional biography of an artist is startlingly good. It describes the painter's life and artistic development in a very realistic way, and offers very illuminating reflections on the whole creative process. It also works very well as a novel - you want to know how Jennet's story develops and ends. But the most astonishing thing about it is that you can visualise the paintings that are described in such detail - these wholly imaginary works of art have a real presence and weight within the book. You believe in their beauty and integrity, and you truly believe that Jennet is a serious and significant artist. This is a powerful and moving book about a life lived for art.
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on 28 July 2009
I kept having to remind myself that Jennet Mallow is a fictional character; because Francesca Kay describes her paintings so exquisitely. you have to pinch yourself to remember that these are figments of the writer's imagination, not works you'll be able to visit in the Tate!
The novel - which starts at Jennet's graveside - takes the form of a fictional biography, tracing her life as a woman/wife/mother and development as an artist. It rings entirely true. (I kept thinking of Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.)
A tremendous achievement, hard to believe it's a first novel.
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on 25 May 2010
I can see from reading the reviews that this novel is one which readers tend towards really liking, or feel a palpable sense of disappointment with. I had great expectations- and for the first few pages it bode well. However the writing style, which to begin with ( and I agree with others here) I thought captivating, became repetitive and over-worked. Some of the best writing seems to be effortless. The sort of writing where you think you could have done the same ( but in reality of course was in fact a great effort). I simply couldn't raise any interest in the characters, and began to skip great chunks of text which were clearly of the same ilk as previous chunks- this constant use of language to draw metaphors with art and overly elaborate prose. I eventually gave up through simple lack of interest in what would happen next. I am though glad that others enjoyed it. Perhaps it just wasn't for me. If I had an advice for the writer, I would say don't rely on using colourful language (sic) to hold the reader- instead work on the characters and of course the simplicty- the bare bones of the story which draw the reader in. Though I am not a writer, just a voracious reader.
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on 27 August 2009
This thoroughly deserves the praise heaped on it. As others have said, the descriptions of paintings, and also the technical processes behind painting them, are brought off beautifully, together with their connections, or lack of obvious connections, with the events in the artist's life. I believed that Jennet was a wonderful painter, if not quite one of the most important painters of the 20th century, as claimed.
Equally impressive, though, and perhaps making the novel appealing to those less interested in painting, are the portrayals of relationships, not just with lovers, but with different generations within Jennet's family, sometimes painful, sometimes changing over time. The author also copes with the emotions of middle age and old age very well, for what I am assuming to be a fairly young woman. The different geographical settings are excellently evoked, and so are the historical eras, from the 1940s to the turn of the century, though never with heavy social realism: a wonderful balance betweeen the inner and the outer worlds. Finally, the sense of the transcendental, a world beyond which we cannot quite grasp, only sense imperfectly, lends a seriousness and nobility to Jennet's story and her work. Hugely impressive in many ways, and surely deserving of much re-reading.
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on 14 July 2013
Overall I enjoyed this book as it was easy to read, interesting and contained lovely descriptions. It was presented in good manageable chunks which made it easy to pick up and put down when time was tight. However the descriptions of some of the less important works of art were a bit overdone and so could have been cut or at least shortened. The narrator also appeared to be implausible so it might have been better to write it as a straight forward novel. A couple of characters were a little under-developed. We read this at book club and I think that it would make a good holiday read.
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on 1 May 2010
I'm afraid I agree with the last reviewer. I so wanted to love this book, the theme being close to my heart, but somehow it lacked conviction. Maybe this was to do with the choice of narrator. I couldn't pick up any dynamics between the person writing and the woman being written about - no secrets, no surprises. (Compare Port Mungo by Patrick McGrath, also a story of artists.) Hence, no page-turner. But the writing, as everyone says, is excellent, and an example of word-painting at its finest.
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on 26 January 2010
It is a great book to start off with and keeps the attention going with the story content and beautiful descriptions in the beginning. But towards the end I find the descriptions too repetitive and the intensity of the story trailing off to my great disappointment. I also find the recreation of the 1950s and 1960s artist theme lacking authenticity in view of Jennet's predicament and it overall a cliché.
Sadly I feel I can only give it three stars.
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on 5 May 2012
I loved this book with a passion, incredible how someone can describe so many paintings with words. I bought it as a gift for my artist friend to give her inspiration to be more productive. It is indeed in very good condition, the only thing is the pages are a bit wavey like its got damp but I am still happy with it as there are no tears on cover and no pages turned back. It is a must read book for anyone with an artistic temperament, a great love story too an an insight to London in the 50's and 60's. Took a week this time with Amazon to be delivered but well wrapped.
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on 4 June 2010
Francesca Kay's debut novel is a fictitional biography of a 20th century female artist, Jennet Mallow, and in my opinion the author did deserve to win the Orange award for new writers. The novel spans the years 1924 - 2000 and travels through Yorkshire, Oxford, London, Cornwall and Spain.

As a young art student, Kay's heroine falls for the enigmatic figure of David Heaton, a rising artist and tutor. When she becomes pregnant, her shocked parents insist they marry, and strangely enough, Heaton goes along with it. And there endeth the 'Mills & Boon' effect!

Sweeping in family and friends, the story revolves around their volatile relationship and their individual artistic talents. And when Jennet's star eventually begins to rise, David drowns his creativity in a bottle.

I found the choice of narrator somewhat odd - the one who knew her least! But I understand why Jennet Mallow's character has been likened to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. I also feel there's a strong bond to Sylvia Plath.

This novel is beautifully written and throughout the pages we're convincingly shown how art can demonstrate the power of language. It's not easy to describe a painting, especially abstracts, but the author manages to do this most convincingly. However, towards the end I was actually beginning to feel overwhelmed (& significantly tired) by Kay's continual descriptions of the artist's pain - just more windows & mirrors, bars & grids!
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