Just finished reading  How to Paint a Dead Man (2009) by Sarah Hall.

I love connections and the whole six degrees of separation thing so a novel with four separate but linked stories is always going to be attractive for me. Add to that the fact that this is a very well-written book (especially about Art) and it gets a five-star rating.

Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria in 1974 and now lives and works there. I have a hunch she holidays in Italy, and loves it there. She doesn’t waste experience when it comes to application in her writing. From Cumbria to Umbria and back again.

To some extent there is a heaven and hell motif – the brutal unforgiving landscape of Cumbria versus the idyllic Italian – but  in both there are redeeming and sinister qualities. In the English setting it is the comforts of home. In the Italian it is the ‘fear within’ of the devil and the past alliances with Fascism.

All four main characters are taken on a Dantesque journey to hell – onset of cancer, sudden blindness, death of a brother and being trapped in an isolated place. All have to consider the past as they wait for what happens next.

Of the four stories, the Italian artist (cancer) and the flower seller (blindness) come off “best” in the sense that they seem to reconcile themselves with their situation. The fate of the English artist (trapped) is left hanging in the Lake District breeze. The prognosis for the Art curator (death of brother) looks by far the most bleak. It’s a reminder that mental anguish can be more destructive in its unpredictable outcome than physical decay. There may also be a subconcious theme in the writer’s head – Italy good, England bad.

Tomorrow night it’s another gig for me – Grouper. The support looks interesting too – Rozi Plain is on a label (Fence Records) that usually delivers quality e.g. James Yorkston. I’m expecting a lot of intense young women producing minimalist lo-fi electronica with much overlaid reverb and the odd Orpheliac lyric. What more could I want?

Grouper – Down To The Ocean