Review Blog

Jun 22 2015

The guy, the girl, the artist and his ex by Gabrielle Williams

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Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781743319550
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Relationships, Single parent, Artists, Art theft, Mental illness. Williams has used the theft of a Picasso, The Weeping Woman, from the National Gallery of Victoria in 1986 as the peg to display the intertwined lives of four people, one making her way to a party at Guy's place in South Yarra when his parents are away for the weekend. Guy is persuaded by his friends to hold a party and the reader knows that the outcome will be quite different from that expected.
In the meantime, the artist, Luke, an arrogant, self opinionated man who has made it on the art scene in Melbourne, has hooked up with two others, a disgruntled struggling artist, Dipper, who works at the National Gallery of Victoria, and an older man, Real, an art dealer with dangerous ideas about people being shocked into giving more funding to The Arts. Together the three achieve the impossible and steal the painting.
Luke's ex, a young woman called Penny left with his child, struggles to stop herself being the demanding ex, the crying rejected lover, the one who will do anything to get him back. She has taken a flat in a building owned by a family whose sister has been brought to Australia from South America after the drowning of her son and the subsequent abandonment by her husband. She is convinced she is cursed. Her daughter, Rafi babysits Penny's baby but one night when Rafi is asked to go to a party by her best friend, asks her mother to look after the baby.
The stage is set for a shocking incident which brings all the groups together.
This is an amazing story. I was simply gobsmacked by the author's ability making this frightening incident such a core piece of the story, her handling of it made me immediately reread it to make sure I had all the facts in my head before proceeding. I was absolutely sure that there could be no coming back after such a thing happening and read on with anticipation to see how it was all resolved.
Sometimes darkly funny, some times confronting, Williams seems to take the readers along her path with ease. I was never in doubt about any of their motives. I loved Penny with her thought bubbles about being independent but then so dependent on any scrap thrown her by the appalling Luke: Rafi, trying so hard to study with a mother beset by strange behaviours: Dipper's angst and Luke's cavalier attitude to everything. All the characters are most recognisable, the mother with her descent into mental illness convinced that the horse headed woman has followed her from South America, the men with motives which superficially seem altruistic, but with an ulterior motive, and Guy, so easily led by peer pressure.
The novel is divided into three sections, before the party, the party and the aftermath and the chapters are from the perspectives of each of the four title characters.
I can see this as a class set as it brings in so many issues begging to be discussed: mental illness, peer pressure, single parenthood, relationships, art funding, and the role of art galleries.
Fran Knight

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