In D’Agincourt’s (All Most, 2013, etc.) novel, a woman reflects on her family’s shared history and the shadow it has cast on her own life.
“Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?” This fundamental question, once posed by French artist Paul Gauguin, forms the scaffolding for this novel. Its protagonist, Jocelyn, takes a piercing, introspective look at her past. It’s only now, as a middle-aged woman, that she recognizes that every family “possesses a prevailing philosophy”—one that brings them together in complex ways. For her and her parents, the central fulcrum was art, and in her own life, the “philosophy” was manifested by a Canadian painter, Alex Martaine, whose work appears to have been inspired by Gauguin’s. Alex’s affair with Jocelyn’s mother deeply unsettled Jocelyn, who was, at the time, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. In the present day, she uses the title of Gauguin’s painting “Where Do We Come From?, What Are We?, Where Are We Going?” (pictured on the book’s cover) as the basis for her own voyage of self-discovery. In three sections that tackle each of the title’s questions, Jocelyn takes readers from her claustrophobic early years through middle age as she searches for the meaning of life. Although her early rebellion takes a familiar, almost predictable form, readers may overlook it as one of the few weapons in a confused teenager’s arsenal. D’Agincourt’s economical prose is frustratingly clinical at times, working much too hard to adhere to the “glimpses” promised in the novella’s title; as a result, it gives readers little else. Yet these moments mirror the feel of childhood and the gradual process of self-realization remarkably well—images pieced together in broad brush strokes. At one point, for example, Jocelyn looks at the aforementioned Gauguin painting and observes that its “rich and exotic” colors are “out of keeping with the detachment in the characters’ faces....The uninhibited sensuality oppresses me, entraps me.”
A precisely rendered image of a quest to tease out life’s larger meaning.