A slim novel filled with big ideas about art and identity.
The Swiss author's bloodless minimalism works better in his elliptical short stories (We’re Flying, 2012, etc.) than it does in longer work, where even a short novel can feel ponderous with its lack of narrative momentum. The plot points here are few, though to reveal their progression might spoil the reader’s discovery. Much of the book takes place inside the head of Gillian, who is initially immobile in a hospital, wondering how she got there. A car accident has left her face unrecognizably disfigured and her husband, the drunken driver, dead. An aspiring actress who instead became a television journalist—which she considers a different sort of acting—Gillian had made a living and found an identity with her face. So who is she now? “It was conceivable that one day there would be a person with a different face, who would be her. But there was as little connecting her to that person as to the other one she had been before the accident.” As the novel plays with chronology, much of the first section features pre-accident flashbacks—to the marriage that had become both tense and routine, to her TV show, and in particular to an interview with an artist who made paintings from photos he took of a wide variety of women who posed naked for him. Later, “[h]e saw the possibilities of [Gillian's] face, not so much its beauty as its variety, the many faces that were contained in it.” By this point, the novel has shifted its perspective to inside the artist’s consciousness. It's six years later, and Gillian has a new face, a new career, a new name. Way too coincidentally, the two have reconnected. Way too portentously, she asks him, “That’s a frightening thought, isn’t it, that you’re capable of killing someone with your art.”
The novel somehow ends on a note of redemption but without resolution.