Published by The Friday Project
Publication date: September 25th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary
I continue to look at a partially formed canvas; fragile and imprecise. Just one untruth will ruin it: if I lie to myself, the painting will dissolve. The temptation to destroy clings to my skin, densely packed and impermeable. What painting is, is the temperance and determination to avoid these urges. I am only as strong as my will allows, only measuring my worth in the oil slicks I swim around; the fires I put out.
In less than 200 pages author Niven Govinden uses All the Days and Nights to construct the last days of Anna, a world-renowned artist who is trying to complete her final painting before she dies. Her struggle to do so is both physical and emotional as she is weak and needs oxygen and her muse, John, has left their house with no word of where he’s going or when he will be back. As the hours stretch into days we follow Anna as she relives their history in her mind and John as he physically tries to revisit Anna’s paintings of him in their various homes across the United States.
If All the Days is a novel about the life of an artist and their impact on the models they use then it is one permeated with bitterness. There is no feeling of love or caring between Anna and John except in the most abstract way- he in agreeing to sit for her for what amounts to years and she in making him immortal through her art. And yet, it diminishes him in real life because he is captured holding still but he is a man of motion. In real life, Anna is desiccated and cold, with little thought for the physical or emotional well-being of others. More importantly, she has no sense that she should be otherwise.
You will continue to sit and I will continue to paint you, because that, John, is why you are here.
Govinden’s prose is as highly stylized as the art he describes. Words are slashed and splattered across the page, sentences short then sweeping. This makes for reading that could be infused with motion but Govinden chooses to write in both a first person and second person narrative, which is jarring and mentally taxing. As a choice, it echoes how many feel about modern art—it makes you work and challenges the mind, but I’m not a huge fan of it. While it may have been Govinden’s motive to force the reader to hear only Anna’s perceptions it limits the perspective for anyone interested in the interplay between artist and muse.
All the Days is unusual in that it is a novel that is unlikely to evoke emotion and yet it will linger. I was not drawn in as I read it and I can’t even say I liked it a great deal but as I write this review I continue to have questions and thoughts about what Govinden was trying to do. It may be that All the Days is less about enjoyment and storytelling and more a larger statement about the isolation and fear that accompanies the artistic process. For those looking for the former, it is not likely to please but at only 176 pages anyone interested in the latter may find it to be compelling fiction.
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