A Winding Road by Jonathan Tulloch
|A Winding Road by Jonathan Tulloch|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Becky Hazlett|
|Summary: A funny and moving, multi-layered novel held together by a Van Gogh painting.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: August 2009|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd|
A Winding Road is an unusual novel comprised of three separate (though structurally interspersed) narratives. The main one, which is set in the present and binds the other two together, follows the sordid escapades of one Piers Guest, art dealer, or, as he prefers, art advisor. Piers swans about London meeting clients, having affairs and generally doing just whatever he pleases with little thought for the consequences. The second narrative is (mostly) set in Nazi Germany and its main concern is a folklorist, Ernst Mann, and how he is viewed by his family after he joins the SS. His actions and motivations are questioned and obsessed about. The third narrative, set in Auvers-Sur-Oise in 1890, is a fictional account of the last days of Van Gogh's life, when he painted some of his most famous work. It features Dr. Gachet who famously treated the artist plus some of Dr. Gachet's other patients of Tulloch's own invention. Piers is alerted to the existence of a lost painting by Van Gogh which has been discovered in the archives of Ernst Mann.
The characters are well-drawn and believable, none of them are black and white, not even Piers. Many of their relationships are fraught and some face tough moral decisions in which ethics are threatened. Van Gogh, in particular, is very sensitively portrayed. At a painting party held in the artist's honour, his mad antics are described to hilarious effect, but, during his more lucid moments, he is a sad figure at the end of his life and his affection for his nephew is very endearing. Tulloch avoids making him into a caricature. Drawing on the art theme, the novel demonstrates that, like a painting, people and their behaviour are open to interpretation, and, most notably in the case of Ernst Mann, it is a question of perspective.
A certain amount of humour is present in this book especially during the descriptions of Dr. Gatchet's patients' various delusions. The present day episodes are also amusing as a satire on the superficial preoccupations of the over-privileged class to which Piers belongs. In stark contrast, the scenes in World War Two are extremely harrowing and disturbing. Tulloch is definitely going for the big emotional impact and shock factor.
The novel is cleverly structured to keep the intrigue going. The obvious linking device between each section is the Van Gogh painting, but, increasingly, other links come to light, woven into the narrative with such skill that you don't necessarily see them coming. The plot develops at a decent pace and little mysteries such as the significance of Purple Willowherb or the final fate of Ernst Mann keep the interest and attention going.
I had a slight issue with this novel because I found I disliked the main character too much to care what ultimately happened to him. Also, the Nazi Germany bits sat uneasily with the rest of the novel which isn't necessarily a criticism as the contrast makes for a richer novel. A Winding Road is a strange combination but psychologically convincing, realist, and it managed to retain my interest despite my misgivings about Piers.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
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