An Equal Stillness, By Francesca Kay

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The Independent Culture

"Life or art?" The question arises on the second page of this sensual debut novel, but is woven throughout the rich narrative in many complex ways. It is a harsh choice for Jennet Mallow, a fictional famed artist born in 1924. Her life is narrated by her biographer: how, as a little girl, Mallow would draw on her bedroom wall in secret; how those early sketches haunt her in adulthood; how she meets her husband in the "life room" at Kensington School of Art and the ways marriage might be death; how she had not dared to think of art as a way of living, but how it is the only way for her. There are more technical questions: do we need to understand the life of an artist to appreciate their work?

There is something thrilling about watching an artist gaze longingly at another form: similarly to Vikram Seth's use of music in An Equal Music, this, too, is a wistful love letter to a cousin art form which sheds light on the distinctive powers of each. Above all, Francesca Kay knows – and shows – how good art takes on a life all of its own.

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