MidCoast Libraries Better Reading Bookclub discussion

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Last Painting of Sara D-Title #2 > Last Painting of Sara De Vos

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
Hi Bibliophiles,

Thank you to all of those who read Relativity and also those who read it and posted comment.

I had planned to put a new title up in June but a couple of things occurred (some annual leave and the impact of the amalgamation) so, rather sheepishly (a curious term when you think about it) I'm now proposing our next title - The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. This got very good reviews in the SMH and other sources (Good Reading I think) and it sounds a bit different. I have a box of titles on my desk which has now been issued to our group card. You can collect a title directly from that - just make sure to put your name on the sheet in the box.


message 2: by Louise (new)

Louise | 23 comments A link to reading group notes for The Last Painting of Sara de Vos from an Allen and Unwin newsletter received today.

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/...


message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
Thanks Louise. That's a great idea. I think the group can use it is a framework for when they review it.

Because I'm reading a different book for my bookclub I'm currently listening to a copy of the book through our borrowbox collection. I'm actually quite enjoying it.

Just a thought for other people as an option to "reading" the book.

Cheers
Chris


message 4: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Holm | 8 comments Hi Chris,

That's a great idea! I can listen to it while I'm drawing.. I'm always on the hunt for things to listen to while I draw. It's not the same as reading a physical book but better than not being able to "read" it at all. Hmmm now I'm going to look for some more titles to listen to.

Cheers,
Stephanie


message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
Good on you Steph. The only probably with the audiobook is when the reader tries an Australian accent. An annoying cross between kiwi, South African and British faux-Australian.
But still a great way to absorb a book.
Cheers Chris


message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
Lol that should have read problem not probably. Damn autocorrect.


message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Jones | 75 comments Mod
Did I enjoy The Last Painting of Sara De Vos? Definitely. I thought it wove the story lines together in a sensitive and enthralling way. I felt sympathy for the lives of all the main characters. I liked that Smith captured the way life just happens – that good and tragic outcomes often turn on a random incident – like Kathrijn bartering with the sick child. I have always appreciated the Coen Brothers movies for this reason.

I enjoyed People of the Book by Geraldine Brookes because it threaded together stories separated by the years – I think Smith has done an even better job. I found Brookes’s modern storyline lightweight (though I loved the storyline from the earlier times) – I didn’t think any of Smith’s characters and stories suffered from lightweight at all.

I like that it’s Australian too (though the narrators attempts at Australian accent nearly drove me mad).

My other book club likes to give ratings, I’m not so worried about that. I’d be happy with good +. Maybe 4 out of 5 if we head down that track.

I appreciate the discussion topics Louise. My first intention was to answer them all, but then I realised that this would make for the longest entry every on Good Reads. So I’ve just gone for the first three, and that makes it long enough. Perhaps others might like to do different questions – or whatever they like I guess.

Right, here goes.

1. What does At the Edge of a Wood mean to Sara, Marty, and Ellie? How did your reactions to the painting shift throughout the novel?
A tricky question. I think it encapsulates Sara’s journey through life. Her creativity, her passion, her tragedy and the trials she had to go through in being a painter, a mother bereft of her child and a wife who was abandoned. It is interesting that for so long it was her only painting.

To Marty it means many things. A connection to his ancestors, a connection to the woman he loves, a connection to the world of art. It also comes to represent his deepest shame and then his redemption, of sorts. Curiously, for Marty he wonders if it also represented bad luck to all its owners. Did it bring him bad luck in the end or something else?

For Ellie At the Edge of Wood began as a chance to explore her artist ability. And it did lead her into the art world, at least indirectly. Through the forgery it also became one of her greatest shames. It led to her relationship with Marty, and all the joy and sadness that created. And it took her deep into the world of Sara De Vos.

For Sara – it defined her life, for Marty and Ellie it changed theirs for ever.

2. How does the memory of Kathrijn influence Sara’s art? What are Sara’s perceptions of mortality and the natural world?
Damn, another tricky one. Sara herself wonders if At the Edge of the Woods is an allegory for Kathrijn’s transit from life to death, so the influence there must be strong. Sara doesn’t choose to paint still-lifes and all her works there appears to be something almost supernatural – whether it’s the ghostly girl, the strangely aerial view of the village or her own last painting her works seem to draw on something otherworldly. She even says every work is a depiction or a lie.

I don’t think that truly answers the question, though I do feel that for Sara the line between mortality, the supernatural and the world itself are blurred.

3. What does the novel reveal about the distinctions between artists and art historians, and between collectors and dealers? Is art forgery a form of art?
Artists are the players and art historians the observers, or possibly detectives. There’s also a sense of art historians having a vicarious relationship with the artist. Dealers don’t fare to well in the novel and collectors seem more of a curious creature. Part voyeurs, part supporters of the art. Possibly a necessary evil, though that sounds too harsh as I write it.

The curious thing is that they all linked, as though part of a greater organism. Could any survive without the other? In which case perhaps its wrong to judge them as a single entity.

I think forgery is a form of art, but not the same form as the original painting. One is about creativity (though perhaps less so with the still lifes), the other about masterful replication. Both requiring profound levels of skill. And maybe, just maybe, even more skill in the forger – though I’m happy to disagree with myself on that one.


message 8: by John (new)

John Kennedy | 16 comments 'The last painting of Sara de Vos' is the most enjoyable and rewarding novel I have read in 2016. The writing is beautufully lucid, and the plot creates a 'page turner'. The characters are convincing and sympathetic, and three very different worlds - The Netherlands in its seventeenth century Golder Age, 1950s New York, and Sydney in 2000 - are vividly evoked. The creation of art in the time of the Old Masters, the murky world of forging art In the twentieth century, and the politically charged world of modern gallery management and exhibition mounting are all brought deftly before us (and as an added bonus for Australian readers, the Art Galkery of New South Wales has a prominent role). I am grateful to Chris fir recommending a book which deserves a wide audience. John Kennedy


message 9: by Louise (new)

Louise | 23 comments In this satisfying, accomplished novel, Dominic Smith parallels the lives of two creative, independent women. Sara’s story unfolds in 17th century Holland whilst we follow Ellie’s fortunes from the 1950s to the 2000s in the U.S and Australia. Although the time difference is vast, common to the stories of both women are the sexist attitudes that pervade and hamper their personal and professional lives. Sara is an especially appealing character and I was always especially pleased when it was her turn to be the focus of the story and Smith’s ability to do this by switching between time periods and locations was masterful. His depiction of the Dutch way of life in city and rural settings was stunning, his examination and expose of the operation of 1950s Manhattan art galleries and auction houses was revealing and the exciting, vibrant streets of Sydney 2000 were instantly recognisable and beckoning.

As well as all that, readers are given the opportunity to consider what it means to grow old
as they follow Marty de Groot’s progression from youth with its attendant carefree attitude to an old age full of regret and trepidation - an interesting, worthwhile aside.

I thoroughly recommend The Last Painting of Sara De Vos as reviewed and for a whole lot more -4.5 stars


message 10: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Holm | 8 comments I listened to the audiobook version and - as Chris mentioned - found the narrator's "Australian" accent grating. I actually kept forgetting Ellie was Australian and thought she was South African! Next time I’ll get my hands on a physical copy of the book. I much prefer reading anyway. Accent aside I quite enjoyed the story. I felt that Ellie and Marty’s story from the 1950s to be the strongest plot strand and the one I was most interested in.

Something else I did pick up on because I was listening rather than reading was that Smith occasionally repeated details - as if to remind the reader of what plot strand they were reading and what had already happened. These seemed really obvious in the audiobook.

I can never review a book straight after reading it - because I’m still responding to the book emotionally. So a few days have passed and now I can reflect with a bit more insight. I thought Smith did a great job transitioning between the stories, revealing details in Sara’s life and Ellie’s past that made you want to keep reading to find out what would happen. And Sara's story turned out quite different to what I had predicted!

There were three scenes - or images? - that were really powerful for me. These were the dead whale on the beach, the village abandoned after the plague swept through and Ellie’s apartment above the dry cleaners in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

I’m only going to tackle one of the reading group questions because the others were too tricky, but for no.4 I think it was Sara and Ellie’s passion that empowered them.


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