searching for the nude in the landscape.
I didn't know until that moment that the muse could be male or of the narcotic effect the imagination can have on fear and pain.Byrna Barclay's fourth novel is a delightful blend of styles. The novel becomes the retrospective that the son, Paul, puts together for a showing of his mother, Estelle Caron's paintings. The book is also a collection of letters that Estelle writes to a psychiatrist in which she tells a story or vignette. The novel also consists of entries from Estelle's journal and poetry that are intended to tell Paul about his father. The unusual format of the novel weaves the various parts together to paint a highly informative portrait of a woman who struggles to give her son a sense of life.
And then, for the first time, I moved the landscape indoors.
Cezanne said that nothing painted in the studio could ever equal what was done outdoors: the contrast of figures with open air settings. Your father wanted me to copy him, but I resisted, compelled to follow the light where it led me. Even before our honeymoon I had been loathe to make love inside and lured your father out of the cars behind barns, down to the riverbank, or into my mother's sunflower garden at home. Here, it was harder to find privacy. So I isolated the patient, surrounding him - and the dentist - by what the light carried into the room from the window.
After the visit to the dentist, my search for the nude muse began in earnest; I was driven, once I fully realized that time and place could dissolve a painting, people superimpose upon each other, and that, dreamed or imagined, Cezanne's plein-airisme contained its equal and opposite reversal. Rather than contrast figures and landscape, the land and its meaning may be brought inside as a way of showing how we come from and are part of the earth and that all it holds and promises is in us too. In either setting, the mindscape may be tapped and revealed. The final painting must be an orgy of colour!
But even now, trying to put it into words for the first time - for you - I feel a loss of faith, of integrity, of ownership. The story and its painting comes from me, you see, but is not me. Just like you. I can imagine your eyes. Perhaps they will be as black as your father's but as mild of expression as my father's, with an oval slant like mine, yet they can only be your distinctive eyes because of what you will see and how you will react to that vision.
The complexity created by the woven pieces of plot make this a novel to read over and over again: on first reading, the reader is well aware that s/he is only skimming the surface.
Deborah Mervold is a teacher-librarian in a grade 6 to 12 school, and a Grade 12 English teacher at Shellbrook Composite High School.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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