The Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodriguez Fowler
I was lucky enough to be on the Shadow Panel in 2017 for this fabulous award that celebrates works by young authors (18-35), having followed it before then, and ever since, naturally. This year’s Shadow Panel also had an interesting set of books to choose from: poetry, a short story collection and two debut novels. They chose the short stories, Salt Slow by Julia Armfield; the judges picked Raymond Antrobus’s book of poetry, The Perseverance, which is on my shelves somewhere having bought a copy after he won the Folio Prize earlier this year.
However the book that most attracted me was The Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodriguez Fowler. This debut novel is written in a very stream of consciousness / vignette / fragmentary / experimental style, which may not appeal to everyone, but I loved it. It was very fresh, flitting through the mind of the young woman of the title, as she recounts episodes from her life. From remembered conversations with her grandmother when she was growing up in Brazil, going out with her friends in London, how she so loved her ex until it became non-consensual – she mixes big emotional moments with humdrum everyday events. The writing goes through all the persons, first, second, third; there are no speech marks (although the paragraphs are inset). Some pages have just a few lines on and read like prose poems running on from each other with few commas in sight either.
It’s audacious, it’s beautifully crafted, you can imagine our narrator (who has much in common with the author) is sifting through all the accumulated conversations in her head, like sorting out your receipts for your expenses in a way, imposing an order on them which makes up the bigger picture, so that she knows where she fits in the here and now. Superb! (I would have given this book 10/10, but for the odd untranslated Portuguese phrases I wasn’t always sure of). See also Rebecca’s review here. (9/10)
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland
I do like a novel about the modern art world, and I love a novel that questions authenticity in said world, which is full of, if not actual fakes, fakers. Last year I loved Tom Rachmann’s The Italian Teacher (reviewed here) in which an ignored son, strove to emulate his great artist father’s work, and expose how everyone is faking it.
Bourland poses similar questions in her new novel. We follow the story of an unnamed young artist from the Florida backwoods, who is struggling to make a name for herself in New York. A meeting with darling of the NY art world, Carey Logan, inspires her. Carey Logan’s career changed though and one day she walked into a lake and drowned herself. Some years later our young artist is on the cusp of making a name for herself, when a fire burns down her studio and the seven huge paintings that were going to be the focus of her exhibition. She lies to her agent, says just the final painting which was yet to be finished burned, and starts looking for a venue to recreate them all in secret – is she a fake for doing that? A contact gets her a in upstate at Pine City, where the group of artists which used to count Logan as one of them own an estate. She has just thirteen weeks to remake all her work, but of course, being on the site where Carey Logan lived and worked leads to more questions about why she died.
Bourland’s satirical look at the New York art scene was so well done, taking on patronage, the secondary market, and those who are only in it for the money, whipped up with sex, parties, jealousy and the mystery of what happened to Carey Logan. Lest you think it’s all about fakery, we do get to experience the narrator’s creative process too. While I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, including the narrator, I thoroughly enjoyed the intrigue and exposé of the art world. (8/10)
Source: Review copy – thank you. Barbara Bourland, Fake Like Me (Riverrun, 2019) 368 pages.