Pictures at an Exhibition

I’m writing at the moment, lots and lots of writing, it’s good not to be blocked. I also don’t want to be interrupted, I don’t want to be asked to pick children up from the gym, feed the hens and I don’t want to read other people’s books. Mainly I don’t want to read other people’s books because it is time I could be spending writing my own; but partly because I don’t want to realise that their turn of phrase is neater than mine, like a finely turned ankle. Even when on a roll, when the characters take the plot to new heights rather than turgid dead ends and when the right word trips off the fingers rather than hangs tantilisingly on the end of the tongue reading somebody else’s work usually manages to reduce me to a wobbly inadequacy.

Yesterday evening I began to read Camilla MacPherson’s Pictures at an Exhibition and I closed the book this afternoon. If I hadn’t been reading in church this morning I probably would have stayed in bed until I had finished it. Okay, Camilla went to the same school as me, but if I hadn’t like the book I just wouldn’t have written a review. I’m a bit of a wimp like that. I’d have muttered something mundane on FB and conveniently failed to get around to a review.

Reader, I loved it. Books based around letters written in the past are at huge risk of overdoing the pathos or are reduced to ridiculous plot twists to bring everyone together (The Postmistress was certainly guilty as charged on both fronts). Despite a miscarriage, a failing marriage, the inevitable temptation of infidelity the book holds on course and doesn’t tip into either trap.

The fine thread holding the plot together is woven by Daisy through her letters sent to a distant cousin in Canada from Blitz beleaguered London. Daisy decides to view the single painting on show each month at the National Gallery during the war. Whilst most of the artwork is locked away for its own protection, a single painting each month is released. Art, like everything else, is rationed.

Sixty years later Daisy leads Claire through the debris of her failing marriage picture by picture. Lost in grief after a late miscarriage Claire has carefully constructed a wall between herself and her husband and takes painful pleasure in the placing of each new brick.

As Claire begins to see more in a painting than oil and canvas she also starts to extrapolate Daisy’s life into her own. The question is what happens to Daisy and will that help or hinder Claire recover from her grief?

You will need to read the book to find out.


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