Danielle McLaughlin’s Brilliant Novel, “The Art of Falling”

There is one good thing about the cold snap: I have done some reading. I was delighted to find a brilliant debut novel, The Art of Falling, by the Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin. Her graceful style is so nimble that I did not so much read the pages as inhabit the vibrant characters. And though I know art only as a museumgoer, I identified with Nessa, an art curator with a messy life, who is dealing with people who have even messier lives.

Nessa is thrilled to be in charge of an exhibition of the work of the late Robert Locke, her favorite artist. She has read everything about him, met him once at a lecture, and has spent weeks interviewing Locke’s difficult wife, Eleanor, and consulting Loretta, Locke’s adult daughter. She has negotiated the sale of his famous Chalk sculpture to the museum.

On a sentence-to-sentence basis, this novel is unputdownable. In the following passage, we feel Nessa’s excitement.

They were standing outside the studio where Robert Locke had worked on a number of his better-known pieces. Before the Lockes came to the house in the late sixties, the room must have been a sitting room. It was wide and bright, with two tall windows looking out to sea, another smaller window to the side, a ceiling with subdued cornicing and one bare lightbulb in the center. Gravity, nominated for the Turner in 1985 and now in the National Gallery, had been conceived and shaped in this room. Venus at the Hotel Negresco, known locally as the Chalk sculpture, was still here. Over seven feet tall, it commandeered the room, part human female, part abstract. The “chalk” strictly speaking wasn’t chalk at all, but a soft gypsum Locke had experimented with in his middle years.

Nessa is at the peak of her career. Finally, she has accomplished what she has always wanted. And then it is as though she wakes up from a dream: Melanie, a bizarre bag lady, shows up at the museum and claims that she herself collaborated with Locke on the Chalk sculpture, and that her name must appear on it. Just as the gypsum erodes, Nessa feels her work begin to disintegrate.

Nessa’s own life is in disarray already. There are triangles within triangles in the family circle. Her husband recently had an affair with the mother of their daughter Jennifer’s best friend, whom Jennifer has dropped, and, according to a politically-correct young teacher, bullied. Ant then the e troubled 20-year-old son of Nessa’s long-dead former roommate appears on the scene.

I raced through this book, which has the combined grace of literary fiction and a seamless pop fiction plot.

A good read for all of us! Cheers!

Happy Cold Snap!

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