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Astonishing Splashes of Colour is the first novel by Clare Morrall and was shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize 2003. The book itself is the first published book by its author, and I think it was the Astonishing Splashes of Colour that make up its cover that attracted me towards its purchase in the first place. The title itself is inspired by Peter Pan, For the Neverland is always more or less an Island with astonishing splashes of colour here and there.
The book itself is narrated by the fictional character Kitty Wellington, and is set in a familiar part of Birmingham that is Edgbaston in the present time. Kitty herself is the youngest of six adult children, including a runaway elder sister who she does not remember, and four older brothers. Kitty does not remember her Mother either, as she died in a car accident when she was three years old.
For the bulk of the book, Kitty herself speaks of a time as a 30 something married female who is clearly suffering from severe depression, as a result of both a stillborn baby boy, and the fact that she has never had a maternal influence. At the age of 25 she met and subsequently married James, a well paid but perhaps geeky and physically challenged computer programmer who had a flat in the same block. Their relationship is touching yet also so very frail in that they have maintained their separate living accommodations despite having been married several years.
Kittys Father, who has raised the children single handedly since the death of their Mother, is a successful painter and artist, and indeed the memories of an older father (45 years older) and a young daughter are so very touching throughout. He also comes across as somewhat of a control freak, particularly when she decides to buy her own flat at the age of 25 without prior consultation.
Although I have to admit not having heard of this term before, the character is also suffering from Synesthesia, a complex cognitive state relating to stimuli and colours. This explains why she could not move in with James her husband, due to the bareness, orderliness and neutral colours of his flat compared to her own and that of the home she was brought up in.
I simply could not put this book down. I completed it in just two or three hours. I enjoyed it for its storytelling style and even for the familiarity that I have with the everyday ground that the character covered living in central Birmingham.
In many ways Kitty seemed to be the glue that bound her family together. Her four brothers, all different but all successful yet none of them would ever give her answers on her missing sister or what her Mother was like, with descriptions so varied, Kitty would be forgiven for thinking they were describing different women.
The style of writing is very straight-forward, and very matter of fact. There isnt any opportunity for sympathy, but there are plenty of questions and unfortunately fewer answers for Kitty. In many ways although on the face of it the family are close by, as the reader I was often struck by how remote they actually were. Kitty and James could not communicate about their dead child, and indeed neither could the rest of the family who could only ask about medication when Kittys behaviour wasnt always the norm.
There are several twists and turns towards the latter part of the book including a very unexpected ending, and I am positive that I was not anticipating most of them. As the scenes and the history unfold themselves I think it is impossible not to be moved for Kittys sake and for the loss she has suffered.
What really struck me was her desperation at not being able to have another child after the death of her own baby boy, and the desperate measures that she went to, all narrated in the most simple matter of fact way, with alarming consequences for the average reader.
But it is not a depressing or sad book, it is simply a book about everyday life, and everyday living, highlighting that we can often be physically close to our families yet emotionally still miles apart.
328 Pages, Published by Tindal Street Press, Birmingham cover price £7.99, and well done to them for their recognition of their local authors talent.
Astonishing is a good word isn?t it. It sounds open mouthed and breathless with wonder. Which makes it quite a good one to have emblazoned along the top of your debut novel. Clare Morrall?s book is a colourful, breathtakingly simple work that infuses you to the core. Her writing style is eloquent, perfect in it?s pitch, and I?m not surprised for a second that this is (another) Booker shortlist nomination. The story itself is a fairly basic one, but don't be fooled by that, it's the very simplicity of plot which lends it so well to such character development, and layers of emotion to be revealed. Kitty Wellington is our narrator throughout, a scatty woman in her early thirties, the youngest of six children. I think first person narratives can sometimes be very weak, but not so here. Kitty?s mother and older sister Dinah have long since gone, leaving Kitty and her four brothers to be brought up by their painter father in a rambling old house in Birmingham. But for all this family around her, Kitty?s life is concerned with the holes. She is a ?lost child?, missing a mother, unable to be one herself. This deep seated grief that has not been dealt with pushes her into a stark depression, where she tries to fill in some of the gaps in her present life by making her past more solid, trying to construct a picture of the mother she doesn?t remember. Her quest is saddening, it?s clear that she is being told half truths, but what are the secrets being harboured in the dusty old house, to what pains has her father gone to paint a new life for everyone? Which of these secrets is it that leads to her feeling so isolated? It is the publication of Adrian?s novel, based on their family history, that starts to unwind some of the strands of the complicated web of lies that explain Kitty?s existance. The sketches of the brothers, Adrian, Jake, Martin and Paul, are nicely done, we know only what Kitty knows. They all differ hugely in their motivat
ions, and characters, offering four different perspectives on the family and their dead mother. These are our ?lost boys? to complement the title of the book, taken from J M Barrie?s ?Peter Pan?. It is Kitty?s relationship with Adrian?s wife and children that begins to uncover some of her hurt. Through this painful little episode near the start of the book we see inside her. After this point she spirals downwards, and her childless obsession grows, but she is never alone, even in the maddest of moments the unconventional relationship she has with her husband James is enviable, despite their inability to talk over their shared grief. Infact, all the characters are incredibly well drawn, their quirky natures shown to us in the most gentle of ways, never mocking, Morrall daubs them all with life. Even at the most distressing points in this novel, where emotions are raw, Morrall has not succumbed to any false sentimentality, the prose pulls us through the inexplicable and the painful course of Kitty?s actions, but she is never belittled or judged. And even at her lowest points she remains human. The writing avoids being depressing or overly upsetting in part by the author?s fantastic use of colour in her words. Everything is described in colour, right down to emotions. It makes the words and the story shimmer off the page at you. There are a lot of little twists and turns sewn into the novel, and once you get to them they seem obvious, but you only begin to guess them a few sentences before the truths are unveiled. Morrall has taken a simple story of family dynamics, the traditional fare of dark family secrets, and imbued it with such vividness, such thoroughly likeable characters, that the entire book grips you fervently. I read this in two evenings, oblivious to anything going on around me. I?m quite loathe to give you a thorough run through of the plot, because it would be so easy to ruin it, all I can say is that is it a beautiful work, rich a
nd completely absorbing, which makes it ridiculously easy to read. In parts sad, others funny and bewildering. Morrall makes you want the answers as much as Kitty. Buy it. Read it. 100% recommended* ?Astonishing Splashes of Colour? by Clare Morrall RRP £7.99 *Booker judges, what do they know?!