From the book’s cover: When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after her breakup with the degenerate Garth .. eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself and contrives a creative collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs … As Ginny tries to prise the truth of her father’s disappearance from a tight-lipped Harriet, both are launched into their own inner worlds of dreams, speculations and remembering.
Harriet, living amid forests in Victoria, paints abstracts of the downs of south England. Judith, living in another place, the south of England, and indeed, in another time line, paints landscapes of a country she has never seen, the Wimmera of her imagination. To the dismay of each, their respective daughters abruptly return home, escaping awful men, ‘The Degenerate’, ‘The Troll’.
‘Happenstance would lodge in (Harriet’s) imagination, resonant with significances’. Ch. 1
A feast for the reader, this multi-layered novel is itself resonant with significances, some increasingly disturbing, such as the recurring appearance of the triptych in black, white and grey by ‘an unknown artist’. This was purchased by Harriet’s agent Phoebe. But no buyer wants it. We later learn it was commissioned by Judith’s own business friend, Bethany, from Judith herself, who disliked painting it. Progressing from one deceased estate sale to another, this thing trails ominously across the novel. More shadows disturb the gardens, friendships, music and art filling so much of the book: Ginny’s nightmares, the conspiracy theories to which Judith feels morbidly drawn, Harriet’s memory of ‘a darkness’ around Ginny’s father, Wilhelm, the hints that Wilhelm,’ The Lemurian’, was immersed in something worse than merely criminal.
‘ Grey eyes that looked to the back of you with innocence and suspicion’. About Ginny, Ch. 1.
Tensions between Harriet, who feels artistically stuck, and Ginny, determined to know why her mother abandoned her father, play out in the creative field. Harriet’s art is rooted in the Bauhaus movement and Kandinsky’s artistic theories of line, point and colour, most particularly of the possibility of synaesthesia. Even while we readers wonder at the connections between two women, two daughters, on far sides of the world, we are also treated to a skillful portrayal of the need for art, the drive to create. Harriet and Ginnys’ creative battle itself shows the constant tension between the method and the artifice of it all on one hand and the desire to evoke something greater and nameless from it, on the other. Chromatic scales, in colour as well as in music, number theory, layers, curves, lines, correspondences, all tell their own story, combining into a new level as something the art ‘evokes in the beholder or listener’ (Kandinsky, Harriet). Or, could it be, as Ginny writes in her PHD on transformative experience, resulting in what the expression is ‘for the person expressing it.’ p.75.
‘Too many composers view composition as something that happens to the individual, not something the individual steps inside. She thought otherwise”. Ginny. P 120.
Here for you to absorb for more than one viewing is a painting, or perhaps a novel, of intricate characters and their inner worlds, the whole ridden through with an increasing sense of dread that something is going to go horribly amiss.
At Isobel Blackthorn’s website you can enjoy background material on her books, including music especially composed to accompany this novel, by the author’s own daughter and pianist. It’s available on iTunes, Spotify, and at Bandcamp.
Isobel Blackthorn is author of the Canary Island triology, which has received glowing reviews: The Drago Tree (reviewed here), A Matter of Latitude and Clarissa’s Warning. Her dark fiction includes Twerk and The Legacy of Old Gran Parks and Cabin Sessions.Her collection of stories, All About You, Eleven Tales of of Refuge and Hope is reviewed here.)