The book then switches to the narrative of Elspeth Conroy as a rising artist- her apprenticeship to artist Jim Culvers, her successful gallery shows and a disastrous transatlantic crossing. She becomes successful. Too successful. More successful than her work merits, by Elspeth's own conviction. We find out, piece by piece, who Knell was before she began her long residence at Portmantle, her obsessions, her integrity and her attempts to harness the inspiration when it comes along, despairing when it deserts her. She leads a life so lacking in clarity; that is what she is truly looking for.
I loved the dual narrative of the book, and how each of the settings was so well crafted that the reader never favours one over the other. The story begins at the artists' retreat, which is fascinating in its purpose, its isolation and its residents. When it switches to uncovering Ellie's past, that narrative is equally absorbing. I never found myself impatient to return to the present, or restless, once at the retreat, to find answers in the back story. The two narratives wove together brilliantly, in ways that were both compelling and fascinating, culminating in a spectacular twist. The ending sends the reader reeling, wondering where memory becomes imagination and what role mental health plays in the creative process. In both the Turkish and New York/Scotland/London settings, the book doesn't assume creativity as an obvious and direct result of mental health issues, or vice versa, but it sort of wonders if the two things might possibly be linked somewhere, however tangibly, along the line.
The author asks what is creativity? Where does this drive to create come from? Is the artist a channel for a divine, spontaneous inspiration? Or is creativity fostered and honed? Does a creator search for inspiration or does it strike them? For me, everything about this novel was impressive- the detailed personalities of the supporting characters, the oddly old-fashioned voice of the narrator, the gripping but periodically baffling plot, the ambitious themes and beautiful, beautiful prose. I loved it. Singularly impressive and thoroughly enriching. I was captivated.
I honestly, honestly cannot recommend this enough.