Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

"Astonishing splashes of colour" by Clare Morral (Tindal Street Press, 2003)

By about page 40 I was ready to give up. It's slow, and plainly written - which is ok as a tactic only for while. Here's a sample

Everything in the house is pleasant and new. It smells new, as if Adrian wants to cancel out the years growing up in our old, second-hand home. There is a heather-pink carpet in the lounge, smooth and restful, and the curtains swirl with shades of pink. They have modern lighting, spotlights behind cheese plants, shaded lights in alcoves, uplights that cast ovals on the ceiling. (p.48)

I battled on. Gradually, the strange behaviour of the main character (Kitty) emerges. According to those who know her, she's not been right since a miscarriage caused her to become barren. She freelances as a reviewer of children's books. She has an elaborate plan to steal a baby that has no chance of long-term success.

On p.160 she mentions her fugues. She's not always sure what others know about her thoughts, and has unfounded hunches. "They don't call me Kitty. I like that. I can believe that Kitty is the inward, secret part of me that I don't have to share with strangers" (p.308). Eventually the plot becomes crammed with drama - deaths, hidden abortions, miscarriages, stolen babies, mistaken identities. She points out that "The mother that I haven't got is different from the one I thought I hadn't got, but I still end up with no mother. So no past, and no future". I thought that in the end her assumed father would turn out to be her real father.

She grew up with 5 brothers in a quirky family. Why so many? I'm not sure, though on p.319 one of them says to Kitty "Without you, we might never have connected at all.". The theme of integration (of self; of twins; of the individuals in a couple; of a family) hovers over the plot (need integration imply merging?), as do "memory" and "colour".


Memory is potentially an integrating factor, but deception, multiple viewpoints and forgetfulness all complicate matters -

  • Father (an artist) recounts his war-time plane-crash into the sea. he says "I keep thinking, if I try again, paint the sea from a different angle, a different colour, a different mood, I'll find what I've lost" (p.109)
  • Kitty says "I need to remember Grandpa and Granny properly in case I forget later on" (p.191)
  • Starting on p.73 we find what each brother claims to recall about their mother. It's as if they're talking about different people.
  • Chatting to Miss Newman, Kitty learns more about false memories.


The use of colours seems rather contrived to me - conceptual rather than synaesthetic.

  • "The people outside the school gates are yellow because of their optimism" (p.9)
  • "Then his white slows down so that all the yellows and blues and reds in his spectrum meet mine and merge" (p.102)
  • "they're like shadows. There's not enough colour in their world" (p.150)
  • "She doesn't glow, sparkle, reflect colour from anyone else. She has no colour" (p.216)
  • "'Be bold Kitty,' [her father] said, 'Put in all the colours, mix them up, don't be afraid of them. Colour is life'" (p.224)
  • "Yellow never lasts" (p.230)
  • "I can see anything I want in the fire. All the colours of the universe, swirling round each other, and merging, so they become one colour, shades and variations of a perfect whole" (p.305)

I prefer Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna.

Other reviews

  • Rachel Hore (Guardian)
  • Bookstacks (The prose starts out lovely actually ... But as the story progresses, with family issues creeping in with much overdramatization, the writing becomes sloppy. ... The author has used the same analogy of colors all over the book, varying the words a little; it was lovely in the beginning but she made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on it making it eventually tedious. Same too with the theme of children and mothers and childlessness. )
  • Molly Farrell (Inside her personal Neverland, Kitty longs, like Peter Pan, for a memory of her mother; but unlike the Lost Boys, she was robbed of her opportunity to reciprocate that relationship and become a mother herself. ... However, Colour proves frustrating when Morrall adds shocking twists to create momentum, unearthing extraordinary secrets. These unnecessary intrigues feel artificial and only serve to distract the reader from the novel's most compelling aspect, Morrall's exposition of ordinary relationships.)
  • Karl Allen (Contemporary Literature) (Only the ending disappoints- and then only slightly. It's hopeful despite the overwhelmingly inevitable consequences of Kitty's actions. But this is a slight blemish on what is otherwise a highly engaging, smart, and (most importantly) entertaining book)
  • Kirkus Review (handles the exploration of loss better than it does the rattle of family skeletons, but it’s still a drab, one-note affair)

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