The Wondrous Apothecary by Mary E Martin

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The Wondrous Apothecary by Mary E Martin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It seems that after The Trilogy of Remembrance Alex Wainwright and Rinaldo still have a great deal to say to each other - and they're even considering collaboration. Who'd have thought it?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 318 Date: September 2019
Publisher: Austin Macauley Publishers
ISBN: 978-1643785035

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Those who have known Alexander Wainwright, the landscape artist famous for his Turner prize winning The Hay Wagon, and Rinaldo, renowned conceptual artist would say that they're chalk and cheese, if not sworn enemies. If you've watched the relationship, as has our narrator, art dealer Jamie Helmsworth, you'd have said that they were magnets, drawing and repulsing each other in equal measure. Wainwright was at the socially acceptable end of the artistic continuum, but with Rinaldo it was all too obvious that there was but a fine dividing line between conceptual art and public nuisance. As time has worn on, he's frequently been brought to the attention of the police. On this latest occasion we see him charged with arson and theft of The Hay Wagon.

There's also a fine line between creativity and madness. Rinaldo's recollections of what happened that night are hazy at best and his confused ramblings mean that his fitness to plead has to be considered. He's sent to a hospital on the Isle of Wight. All they're asked to do is make a decision on his fitness to plead, but Dr Jeffers can't resist the opportunity to try out his latest gadget on someone with a creative mind. He won't admit it, but electro-convulsive therapy has not worked well on all his patients: some feel that their creativity has been stolen. Rinaldo is determined that he will not receive the treatment and lacking any family to help him his only support comes from Alexander Wainwright.

With a better relationship between the two men comes the possibility of collaboration. Alex's art contains humanity, but each man's work exhibits something which is lacking in the other's. But true collaboration is a great deal more than an agreement to work together: the mind must be able to accept and rejoice in the skills which the other has. Conceptual and traditional artists are closer in skills than might be thought.

Are the visions which Rinaldo sees, but which are invisible to everyone else, a sign of his mental instability or is there something more sinister behind them? Why is there this urge to make what is different, conform, become normal? Why are innovative people considered to be dangerous? Mary E Martin gives us an engaging, compelling story which is also thought-provoking. I found myself examining my own reactions to Rinaldo, but - and probably more importantly - I began to think about what art is, what it means to me and what the production of it takes from the artist.

I hope that doesn't make the book seem rather worthy, because it's a good story told well. Martin brings London and the Isle of Wight to life - no mean feat for a Canadian living in Toronto. I have a minor quibble with the book in that the use of North American words and phrases in the mouths of English characters (such as 'cruiser' for 'squad car') pulled me out of the story momentarily, but it is a small point in an otherwise good read. I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you'd like to read the full story, then start at The Drawing Lesson: The First in the Trilogy of Remembrance

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Buy The Wondrous Apothecary by Mary E Martin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Wondrous Apothecary by Mary E Martin at


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