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Review: Turner’s Paintbox by Paul Morgan

turners paintbox paul morgan Review: Turner’s Paintbox by Paul Morgan

When vivacious Julia asks Gerard his favourite colour, he nominates, without a moments hesitation, white. Though he stretches for a comparison, all that comes to mind is the starkness of a Kelvinator fridge: only later do images of fine china and pristine canvases present themselves. Gerard’s struggle is telling: his preference for simplicity and sparseness, and his inability to truly love, to revel in anything, echoes strongly throughout Turners Paintbox in all aspects of his life. Even those things of purported importance to him are no more than appreciated, admired.

Turner’s Paintbox, Paul Morgans second novel, is a story of, as Gerard tells us in his carefully descriptive, yet grindingly detached manner, the parabola of love: the gradual climb into a breathless apex that is inevitably followed by a pained descent. While Gerards romance with Julia is conventional in this manner, touching on both the highs and lows of the relationship curve, Morgan adds depth to the depiction of the relationship by framing it against a backdrop of the life of renowned painter JMW Turner, and against the works of the artist himself.

Gerard prides himself in his artistic knowledge, of his ability to judge a piece of work, carefully analyse it, catalogue it: these skills have been integral to his past jobs, and to his current role as an art advisor. Yet, despite Gerards appreciation for art, he lacks any sort of emotional engagement with it, any true appreciation. Indeed, despite dealing with art on a daily basis, he never participates in its development, having little interest in the creative aspect of the artistic world at all. When his partner, the lively Julia, brings home a collection of papier mache houses created by her students, Gerard all but recoils, longing for what he perceives of as a mess to be removed from his carefully and sparsely decorated modernist apartment.

Gerards attitude towards Julia is similar, and the fate of their relationship is not difficult to see. He seems to prize her as a piece of art, taking interest in her quirks and freshness, of which there is little else in his life. Julia, unfortunately, is not part of one of Gerards collections, but rather a standalone piece, and try though he might, he cannot mould her to fit his carefully negotiated emotional gallery. With each crunching bite of her brightly coloured imported cereals, with each flick through her arcanely organised address books, Julia slowly transforms before Gerards eyes from an avant garde curiosity to a piece of kitsch ruining the clean lines of both Gerards apartment, and his life.

The clash of light and dark, of liveliness and measured contemplation, and all the other binaries that could apply to Gerard and Julia are pitted against the life of Turner, a fictionalised biography of whom occupies a counterpoint narrative to the main plot. Its an intriguing conceit, and one that should be striking, but I felt that the secondary narrative did little to prop up or illuminate the story of Julia and Gerard,  particularly given the inconsistency of tone and subject matter when addressing the various elements of Turners life. The mere presence of Turners work in this novel is enough to highlight the irony of Gerards increasingly mercantile approach towards art, and his stark and clinical approach to the messiness of life, which Turners work sought to depict with its effusive approach to light and dark. Turners art is also used to contrast and differentiate Gerard and Julia and their idiosyncratic outlooks on life, and this is achieved effectively enough without the addition of the secondary narrative.

Morgan does seem to struggle to balance some of the other elements of the novel, with a narrative voice that is at times uneven, and dialogue that seems rather too childish and pat for his well-read characters, and some may feel, as I did, the novel does suffer somewhat from a prickly and unlikeable protagonist. On the whole, though, Turners Paintbox is a well-written second novel that brims with ambition.

200px 3.5 stars.svg  Review: Turner’s Paintbox by Paul Morgan

Purchase Turners Paintbox.

Also by Paul Morgan:

the pelagius book paul morgan Review: Turner’s Paintbox by Paul Morgan

The Palegius book

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