Friday 15 December 2017

Review: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

This book is something completely different to anything I would ever normally read. Verse novels really aren't my thing, but somehow this one sounded so interesting, so I requested it from the lovely folks at Penguin Random House, and wow, I was not disappointed. This book is incredible. So difficult to read in some places, but so incredible.
A stunning debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost. 

He will not consume my every thought. I am a painter. I will paint.

Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you what a woman can do.

Firstly: I want to thank Samuel at PRH International for sending me this gorgeous book, along with People Like Us, which will be my next review. So few publishers send review copies outside of the US these days, so thank you for being awesome!

This book. I don't even know how to talk about it. Obviously, it's always difficult to review verse novels, but this one is on a whole different level, because it was just so fantastic. I read this gorgeous book on the train home from University one weekend, and wow, oh wow, I was not ready for the rush of emotions this book gave me.

This is the story of the artist Artemisia Gentileschi when she was 17, an artist I have to admit I had never heard of before. She has the most incredibly sad and empowering story. Sexual assault is such a difficult topic, but Joy McCullough tackled it with bravery and the most incredible sense of truth. It's haunting and gutting and terrible and beautiful and I'm still thinking about this book over a month later.

Her story also entwines with two of Artemisia's painting subjects, both of whom were in similar situations, and these were some of the most gripping parts of the story. The prose takes a while to get used to, but once I did, I flew through this story. Though the plot is so difficult to read, Artemisia is such a strong and empowering character that I definitely felt a connection and wanted to stick with her. I was so angry at the way she was treated but though her story is incredibly, incredibly sad, it's also ultimately hopeful. It celebrates the life of a strong woman, and I'm so glad I got to read her story.

Final thoughts: this was one of the saddest books I've ever read, but also one of the most powerful. I would definitely recommend this book if you want an beautiful feminist story, but be prepared for tears.
I think Mackenzi Lee says this best: 'Tragically relevant and unflinchingly feminist, Blood Water Paint is the kind of book all historical fiction should aspire to be."

"Everything begins from here:
the viewing point
the place where you stand,
your eye level.
That single point on the horizon
where all other lines

What do you guys think? I'd love to know your thoughts!

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