Artists and the art world dominate this novel of love and landscape.
Hall (Daughters of the North, 2008, etc.) deftly balances multiple narratives across a generation and a geographical area bridging England and Italy. Signor Giorgio, a reclusive Italian painter, dies in the early 1960s, his last years dominated by still lifes of bottles. After his death, Annette Tambroni, a blind girl overly protected by her mother, begins to tend his grave. More than 30 years later, Peter Caldicutt, a talented English painter, finds himself pinned down by boulders at the bottom of a gorge in Cumbria. When younger, Peter had written to Giorgio to express admiration for his work and to pose some questions that caused Giorgio to reflect on his preoccupation with the seeming anachronism of the still life. Now, trapped and desperate, Peter reviews his life while waiting for rescue. Two of the objects of his reminiscence are his twin children. Danny has recently been killed in a motorbike accident; Susan, who had served almost as a mirror of her brother’s moods and emotions, takes his death particularly hard and deals with it largely through erotic escape. She neglects her long-term relationship with Nathan and begins a scorching affair with Tom, her fellow curator on an art exhibit in London. Peter also recalls his early days as an art student in the ’60s, his marriage to the freewheeling Raymie and the threesome they formed with Peter’s even more freewheeling artistic mentor, Ivan Dyas. Although Annette makes appearances throughout this many-voiced novel, the primary figures are domineering Peter, in his daughter’s eyes a “colossal man…who smoked dope and rock-climbed with the Earl’s sons, who walked around either stark bollock-naked or dressed for the theatre,” and sensitive, anguished Susan, trying desperately to find herself after the loss of her alter ego.
Displaying a sure command of character as well as a poetic mastery of language, Hall is a talent to be reckoned with.