The naïvely voiced, impressionistic tale of a young English art student’s painful acquisition of wisdom.
In her U.S. debut, Scottish-based McEwen works hard at capturing her heroine Eve’s youth, excitement and fixation with color by giving her a first-person, present-tense narration both choppy and poetic—“It is autumn and the city is lit by yellow trees”—which at times can be exhausting and at other times manages to deliver the emotional intensity of a young woman intuitively in touch with overwhelming feelings. Eve’s mother drowned when the child was five, leaving her in the care of her father, who became an alcoholic. So when Eve can finally escape the family home in Cornwall to study art in London, she experiences relief and thrilling freedom. Soon she is swept up in city and student life: close female friendships; art exhibitions; and an attraction to a fellow-student, Zeb. But then her father turns up, drunk and beyond help, and although she lets him stay for a while, eventually, in an angry moment, she sends him away. Guilt follows and a powerful awareness of her father’s despair, which concludes with the discovery of his body. Now Eve plunges into grief and depression but is saved by her friends, her creativity and her feelings for Zeb.
Banality and radiance combine oddly in a novel that achieves immediacy but risks claustrophobia.