Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review: Clare Morrall, Astonishing Splashes of Colour

Author: Clare Morrall
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins, 2004

There were high expectations for this novel prior to picking it up simply because the title was so evocative. Clare Morrall, with her first novel, does not fail in fulfilling these expectations as she has crafted an immensely appealing protagonist in Kitty Wellington, whose alienation, both internally and externally constructed, is both saddening and life-affirming. Astonishing Splashes of Colour is indeed astonishing in its composition, as Morrall weaves colour through the narrative as sign posts for insight into Kitty’s physical, emotional, and psychological wounds and wonderings.

Kitty lives what can be termed a dysfunctional existence. Her family, comprised of four much older brothers, who share little in common besides her, and her tempermental and creative painter father, are emotionally distant. She does not have any memories of her mother, a woman who was supposedly killed in a car crash when Kitty was very young. She is also living out an unusual arrangement with her husband James, who lives across the hall in his own flat. Together they are bound by marriage, and individually they are attempting to assuage an encompassing grief that neither one can easily shed.

To all, including herself, Kitty is emotionally unstable and unable to fully deal with her miscarriage and subsequent inability to have children. Her response to the grief is to cast everything around her in varying colour hues. This creative device known as synaesthesia, a condition in which emotions are seen as colours, allows the reader vivid insight into Kitty’s devastion and quite fantastic imagination.

Using the miscarriage as her staring point, Morrall slowly reveals the true impetus for Kitty’s internal anguish, her search for an identity. Because she has no memories of her mother, Kitty questions her brothers and fathers for answers, answers that they are quite reluctant to reveal. Her search culminates in one emotionally charged event, where Kitty comes to understand that the life she so desperately clings to is built on two equally devastating lies.

The emotional impact of these revelations sends Kitty spiraling for solid ground. She ends up acting on her child-like impulses, actions that result in a dangerous double kidnapping. It is this event that triggers yet another emotional and tragic event that finally forces Kitty and James to fully face the reality of their current lives if they are to ever move forward.

Morrall has created a tremendously powerful novel that is fresh and unsentimental. She layers her prose with dark humor and emotional breaks, building upon plot turns and character faults to construct a suspenseful tale of depression and devastation, loss and love, optimism and starting over. Astonishing Splashes of Colour is a brilliant debut novel, and the undercurrent of hopefulness threaded throughout its pages is the element that sets it apart from rest of the pack.

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