Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Keeping the World Away: A Novel Paperback – July 29, 2008
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
An enigmatic painting by Gwen John created as the young English artist pined for her neglectful lover, Rodin, connects the disparate characters in this century-spanning sentimental tale. Forlorn Gwen paints a canvas of a corner of her Paris flat intended to "signify herself—calm, peaceful, content" and gives it to a friend, who misplaces it. So begins the painting's journey as it ends up in the possession of an artistically bankrupt teenager, an impoverished nurse, a downtrodden farmer, a scorned wife, an aging woman returning to Paris after a long absence and, finally, a promising art student, all of whom find either strength or solace in the valuable work. Though the men characters are less than convincing, Forster captures a wide swath of 20th-century European womanhood. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Based on an actual painting, The Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris by Gwen John, Forster's novel recounts the history of how the painting came to be and imagines its effect on the women who have owned it. The story begins with Gwen herself, an independent, intelligent, and spirited artist. She loses herself in a passionate affair with the sculptor Rodin, and as the years pass and his visits become less and less frequent, she does the one thing she knows best--she paints a picture that represents the woman her lover wished Gwen could be: quiet, serene, and content. Gwen gives the painting to a friend and so launches its journey into the hands of several women across different countries and generations. Writing beautifully and seamlessly weaving each woman's story into the one before, Forster gives the painting a life of its own, evoking passion, yearning, and even hope in the women who possess it. This is a lovely and compelling work of literary art. Carolyn Kubisz
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
I like stories where the author has used characters from real life inspiration as although it is fiction I still feel I am learning something from reality at the same time. For example reading this novel has led me to research about the artist.
The story is divided into six sections to track the paintings journey and Forster manages to link each one by an almost imperceptible link known only to the reader. The journey starts with the paintings artist Gwen John herself before she has produced this small and intimate painting of the attic room, where she spends so much time waiting for her lover Rodin. A complex and determined young woman from an artistic background, Gwen had persuaded her father to let her study at the Slade, which led her to later live in Paris and become a model for the great master Rodin.
Gwen gifts the painting to a close friend and hence we move on to the next woman in the story, although not the one you might expect. Owned by five women, Gwen, Charlotte, Stella, Lucasta, Ailsa and Gillian whose lives the painting touches as it is lost, found, sold, bought, inherited, given away and stolen. You learn how this painting affects their respective lives as each woman has an interesting connection to the previous one. I felt the story flowed across the time period exceptionally well, leaving me with the feeling that the painting had done the job the artist originally intended. Which was of course to keep the world away, even if only for those few cherished moments when one was gazing at it.
As I said at the start of my review an original read that I think will appeal to anyone that enjoys art and creative women. Margaret Forster draws you into the lives of these women, especially as the source of the story is all based on a wonderful little painting.
Gwen John served as the great sculptor Rodin's muse, lover, and model. After his interest in her waned she created a small painting of a quiet attic room. As the torrid affair with Rodin sputtered out, the diminutive glimpse into a peaceful world gave Gwen "a second's pleasure", renewing her artistic spirit and regaining her confidence.
Margaret Forster casts the painting as her central character in Keeping the World Away, a semi-fictional saga that opens in days of Rodin and Gwen John's love affair. Capturing the essence of the artist, the painting showcases a simple scene--an attic room, a lace curtain, a jar of primroses on a table, a wicker chair with a parasol leaning against it, and a coat thrown over the woven back of the chair. The soulful creation brings more than a second's pleasure to Forster's additional characters as it literally shapes their destinies.
Effectively covering the span of the 20th century, Forster tracks the life of the painting as it delights Charlotte, an affected follower of the arts with a good eye but minimal talent. Found in a valise at Victoria Station, it spurs Charlotte to become a fringe participant in the art scene in Paris. Forster captures the essence of Charlotte's privileged pre-WWI life, and contrasts in handily in the succeeding chapters.
Stolen from Charlotte's family home, the painting finds its way to Stella, living with a wounded soldier from the Great War along the cliffs of Cornwall. Once amidst her possessions, the inanimate but vivid canvas fosters courage in Stella to move on and recapture her life as a nurse -- but more importantly a painter.
Handed off to a neighbor, the canvas graces the walls of a cottage as V-E day dawns in 1945, where Lucasta, the half-Gypsy, half-Cornish daughter of the neighbor prepares to go off to art school, having gazed at the attic scene for her entire life.
In the post-war years of Europe, the painting touches the lives of three more women.
After Lucasta's Bohemian post-war adventures in Paris, it lands in the shattered world of Ailsa, the wife of Lucasta's lover. Ailsa flees to Scotland, taking the canvas with her, and upon her return, it again creates turmoil in her life. Conversely, the simple portrait captivates Mme. Verlon, a latent artist, who buys it along with Ailsa's home.
In her twilight years, Madame meets another young struggling artist in Paris in the present day. Bequeathing the cherished painting to the young Gillian in her will, Madame recognizes in the last line of the novel, "The artist would think it was enough. She had painted it to keep the world away. If it helped others to do the same, her purpose was fulfilled."
Forster's novel also keeps the world away - her novel allows an escape, a retreat into lives where light and color reign supreme in the artistic souls of eight different women, all seeking the same thing.
Julia Brantley, author of A Score Of Intervals