Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie - Book Review
To start off with, I need to say. This is a weird book. Now, that may sound like a criticism, but it's really not. I like weird books.
So, you might be asking yourselves, why did I feel the need to mention this? Well, I was expecting a psychological thriller - and I certainly got one of those. What I wasn't expecting was that it would be so... well... weird.
The book opens in Glasgow where our protagonist, Jacob Boyce has become so obsessed with trying to understand the nuances of a particular painting that he is in danger of loosing both his job as an academic and his wife.
His attempts to understand the picture include quite a lot of convincing mathematics (which I suspect is bogus, but it's a testament to Gillespie's research and writing that it seems to make sense, at least as much as anything does in this book) which is actually something I found hugely appealing. As strange lights start to emerge from the canvas, and the figures depicted within start to move, the grounding nature of the maths gives is a solid reality. And I've always been a bit of a science nerd, so it pushes those buttons for me too.
At about a third of the way through, the book changes location to Spain, and most of the book plays out here. I don't want to go into the plot too much, as I don't want to give anything away, but what started as one man's obsession over a painting becomes a kind of demented road-trip, where things get stranger and stranger.
There are, I think, a couple of mis-steps in the book. The comedy interludes in particular - from a police inspector and a bus driver - seem to have been dropped in, and jar somewhat with the overall tone as you read them. But as the book turns more and more weird, even they seem in retrospect to be completely normal.
This is a well-written and gripping book. The character of Boyce is by turns extremely likeable and sympathetic, and then equally strange and disturbed. The description of it as a surreal psychological thriller is an apt one for a book which includes the degeneration of a man's mind and body, art history, space-bending mathematics and free jazz.
It may be weird, but it's my kind of weird. A great book, and well worth a read.
You can pick it up now on Kindle or paperback from Amazon.