Keeping the World Away, Paperback Book
2 out of 5 (1 rating)


Lost, found, stolen, strayed, sold, fought over... This engrossing, beautifully crafted novel follows the fictional adventures, over a hundred years, of an early 20th-century painting and the women whose lives it touches.

It opens with bold, passionate Gwen, struggling to be an artist, leaving for Paris where she becomes Rodin's lover and paints a small, intimate picture of a quiet corner of her attic room. Then there's Charlotte, a dreamy intellectual Edwardian girl, and Stella, Lucasta, Ailsa and finally young Gillian, who share an unspoken desire to have for themselves a tranquil golden place like that in the painting. Quintessential Forster, this is a novel about women's lives, about what it means and what it costs to be both a woman and an artist, and an unusual, compelling look at a beautiful painting and its imagined afterlife.


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This is a book about a painting by Gwen John, of a corner of her attic room - a small table, wicker chair, and the light from the window. There is a small reproduction of the picture on the back of the book - which you will probably look at many times as you read. The book follows the picture through the lives of a number of women who own it - all of whom see the picture as full of passion and emotion, despite its simplicity (although they see different emotions at different times). The women, too, are misunderstood by those around them, who often fail to appreciate the depths of passion that their unexceptional exteriors cover. I found this book quite hard going. I did not find any of the stories especially engaging, and I was frustrated by the fact that everything seems to be explicitly spelt out. It's a great idea for a story, and to me it was crying out for an Elizabeth Bowen-style narrative where the emotions beneath the surface need to be mined by the reader, with hints and allusions there to work from. But instead, it's all given to you - and there wasn't enough interest or variation in the stories for me to make it worth while.

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