Night Blue by Angela O’Keeffe

‘I was not yet colour, and time was not settled in me.’

Imagine. Imagine the voice of a painting and listen to what it has to say. In this imaginative, short debut novel, Ms O’Keeffe gives voice to ‘Blue Poles’: the painting so controversially bought by Gough Whitlam in 1973 before the National Gallery of Australia, in which it is housed, was built. I remember the purchase and at the time I wondered about it. Now, when I visit the National Gallery of Australia, I am intrigued by it.

‘The name is not important. It is the feeling that a thing engenders, not its name.’

How does Ms O’Keeffe bring the painting to life? There are three parts to this novel. Parts One and Three are the voice of the painting, Part Two is the voice of Alyssa, an assistant restorer, who is undertaking a PhD on Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler (the women in Jackson Pollock’s life). The voice of the painting takes us back through its creation, through settings and process and back to Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner, and then its travels. Alyssa’s voice gives an Australian perspective of the purchase itself and the painting’s journey as well as a look at the life and times of Jackson Pollock.

An inner (logical) voice tells me that it should not work, but it does. Ms O’Keeffe goes behind what is known and imagines life where many of us see a static object. It made me think both about the significance of Blue Poles, and the story it (or any other painting) could tell if we could hear its voice.

This is a clever and engaging novel. I enjoyed it, and I am still thinking about the voices (for surely there is more than one) within and behind this (and other) paintings.

‘The story is a moth; its destiny is light.’

Another novel recommended by Lisa over at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog:

Night Blue, by Angela O’Keeffe | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Thank you, Lisa!

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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