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  1. Tanja Sarenac
    18 December, 2011

    “Keeping the world away” is simply beautiful.

    It was a great pleasure to read it and I would like to thank you for having it recommended. For me it was a haunting story that has stayed with me after I finished reading it.

    The main protagonist of the novel is a small panting of an attic corner, made at the beginning of 20th century by Gwen whose love related sufferings made her keeping the world away and by doing so to produce something that a century later would be considered as having a great value.

    The adventurous journey of the small painting started in 1906 and has lasted almost 100 years. During that time it has touched the life of different women belonging to different generation, all more or less artistically sensible, and has changed it. Each woman in the novel owned it for a while, and by looking at it, analysing it tried to understand her own life. Their response to the painting was different as they brought to it the perspective of their own life experience.

    Given to Ursula by Gwen, who misplaced it, it ended up in the possession of Charlotte who faced with it realised how limited was her artistic talent and gave up her ambition of pursuing her artistic career. Stolen from Charlotte it reappeared in hands of Stella who never understood its secret message, for whom the painting did not look so powerful. Her life was so gloomy that she did not hesitate to sell the painting to be able to escape from it. By selling it to Ginny’s husband, Stella’s depressing life ended. By the way, it is a character that I liked the least.

    Ginny, who received the paining from her husband for her birthday, loved it, so did Lucasta, her daughter. For Lucasta it represented peace, “peace for something to be longed for”. But what was seen at the begging as a peaceful image of an attic corner, a bit “insipid, unexciting, even soporific” turned to be “a picture of sadness, a gentle wistfulness, the reflection of an aching heart” at the moment when Paul entered her life. Paul was the only man in the book who actually grasped the meaning of the small painting. It was Lucasta’s present to him when she decided to leave him. Long time after he was not able to understand what she meant by giving it to him. But once in agony caused by terrible pain, he seemed to have understood the message. “The heartache in it maybe” he concluded, “So difficult… love, so difficult, isn’t it, all the trying, striving, hoping. Empty. Like the room”.

    His wife, Ailsa, was the next on in the chain of those whose life was affected by the little painting. As others she also questioned how to manage her live after her husband’s betrayal and his death. Keeping away from the world on a small island and looking at the small painting she thought “It was only possible to be tranquil if there were no people around…people were disturbances…. but if so, was not existence rendered barren, loveless?”.

    What Gillian saw in it was not an empty room, without human presence. For her “…it only looks empty. It’s full, though: it has a presence, someone serene and contended and maybe in love”. This painting has a history and it is not only the paint on canvas, it has something that can always be felt if the onlooker knows how to identify it.

    Claudette was a character that I liked the best.

    For many years the message she had been getting from the small painting (the empty chair, the parasol, the flower) was “let life be simple”, keep the world away. But then she realised that she also needed people, to love and be loved and that the “simple life was not enough. The world could not be kept away, not entirely, if one wished to be happy”.

    Keep the world away was the message that the little painting seemed to have wanted to convey to the onlookers. By the way the artist had painted it to keep the world away. Reading the novel, especially a chapter describing Claudette’s life I was happy that the painting helped her to come to the opposite conclusion that the world could not be kept away, not entirely, if one wished to be happy.

    Tanja Sarenac

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