You can’t “pivot” in life, but at the pivot stage, Eve moves from work to work, is thrown out of the flat, becomes more and more reckless, and spirals downwards to stave off memories of the past. Initially, art – seeing it and co-creating – highlights her, but her past trauma quickly catches up with the present trauma, and she must confront the loss before it’s too late. Hmm. This book is a warm and rewarding growth story. Ashby depicts a beautiful and vibrant portrait of an elastic young woman who understands how to survive in a changing hostile world.
At a cafe near The Courtauld, a gallery with Manet’s paintings, I met Ashby to discuss the importance of visual arts in her writing.Talked about the behavior seen in Freshly painted paint And the strength of her first-person narrator, Eve.
Like Eve, you are an art historian. But you are an artist and a cultural critic.How did these various practices and writing genres provide information? Freshly painted paint??
When I was writing the novel, I knew these areas clearly. Art criticism is very visual, and when you start a review or an artist interview, you often start with a visual clue or a description of a particular work. In the process of writing the novel, Manet’s painting “Folly Bergère’s Tavern” (1882) gave me a similar anchor. Beyond the painting itself, I’m a pretty visual person and I’m sure this will come across in writing. I also gave it to Eve. As you know, Eve is always observing things around her.
Whether it’s a fascinating observation of a work of art or a “burning” gaze of another person, the act of sight and seeing is essential to the story and Eve’s experience. Can you tell us more about the power to read books?
The idea of seeing and seeing is something I thought and wrote a lot. Even at university, it was important when I wrote a dissertation on the French artist Gustave Caillebotte. Caillebotte’s painting The Floor Scrapers (1875) depicts three half-naked workers in a bourgeois Paris interior. This act of seeing a man is unusual in the days when many male artists were painting women. Today we go to museums and are very accustomed to facing the myriad female nudity drawn by men. This view has always been in my head.
I also wanted to clarify the disconnect between the way we show ourselves to the world and present ourselves and the way we feel. That’s partly because it’s an experience that many of us are very familiar with, but it’s also what I’ve always thought about Manet’s paintings. Introducing Suzon, this bar maid with a very mysterious look. There is no way to know what is happening in her head.
One of the reasons I wanted Eve to be a life model is that it creates a growing dissonance between how you feel and what you see. She steps into the studio and literally exposes her body. When she poses, she’s completely quiet and silent, yet her mind is unknown to the artist, but she’s racing.
Ask more about Eve’s life modeling. Initially, I felt Eve had abandoned her power and privacy, but in reality it was a brave and sometimes empowering activity. Was it intended to be a form of empowerment?
Yes, definitely. Initially, her life model is a bid for empowerment. It’s her rule. She is thrilled with her idea that all these strangers are taking time from their day to come to see her, and it makes her feel good: thank you for being seen .. But soon she realizes that they aren’t really looking at her, and at some point she says she’s just a collection of sketched lines or a bowl of fruit.
Ironically, the look that is done in Life Modeling Studios is more objective. It’s the kind of look that’s safer and cheaper than what happens to women on the streets and what Eve encounters with patrons at restaurants. At least first, it’s safer for Eve to be completely naked in the studio than in a fully dressed world.In a sense, the novel is about the power of art. How it can talk to your pain and carry you when life and language fail. For Eve, her relationship with Manet’s Folies Bergère has a special influence on her. Please tell me the reason why you chose this picture.
I studied at The Courtauld and vividly remember the day I saw Manet’s paintings physically. Since then it has been a companion to me-although not as much as it is for Eve! Anyone who has stood in front of the painting will understand that there is something powerful in the line of sight of the barmaid Suzon. For a very long time I didn’t pass her face. Because, as I said before her, I was obsessed with trying to understand what she was thinking. Was she lonely? This is part of the reason why paintings are so attractive to Eve as well. Like Suzon, she couldn’t know what her best friend was thinking before her death. And the people closest to Eve don’t even know what she thinks or feels. She is very conscientious about hiding her thoughts and feelings.
Manet’s paintings are known for their perspective plays through mirrors. I noticed a lot of subtle mirroring, reflections, and deflections in the book. Was this intentional?
Manet was criticized for the mirror in the painting because it doesn’t make sense: Suzon, for example, isn’t standing where she should be in the reflection. Some thought he was a blunder, but for me it nods to the instability and strangeness of modern life. The mirror image and reflection of the novel (between the characters and the situation) was something I was aware of from the beginning. As Eve reads through the novel, she “borrows” someone else’s belongings and tries different outfits to see how it feels to “become” them. It’s another way to escape the thoughts she’s stirring in her head.
I wanted Eve to be in this vague middle space between education and adulthood. It’s an exciting time, an adult ceremony, but it’s also unstable. You are desperately trying to understand what you want to do and who you want to be. And for Eve, there is additional trauma that means she’s wobbling at the edges. That midspace is one of the mirrors and a very confusing space to find yourself.
Eve is a very strong narrator. She has a vibrant sense of the world around her, her pictorial perspective and how to make her life. Still, it is her extreme vulnerabilities that she observes the outside world and juxtaposes with this compelling mode involved. Even before she begins modeling her life, Eve is vulnerable to predatory men, and more broadly to the desires of others. Could she tell us a little more about this dichotomy of characters?
We are often pierced in pigeons-you are strong or vulnerable-and one of the things I wanted for Eve was to give her both rooms-and more. She is incredibly strong given her experience with her family and Grace, as well as her way of being and hugging. I respect her. Sometimes that her strength sees her sharp and reckless, but she also has a softer and more vulnerable side. Often that side is pulled out in unexpected ways, like when she’s with Molly, this sweet 6-year-old girl she takes care of. Eve looks anti- “children” at first glance, but something about Molly allows her to tell the truth. Again, like Max, she can be most vulnerable to those who treat her in a way that she deserves to be treated.
And finally, what do you want a young woman to take away from reading Eve’s story?
I hope this book provides recognition and light relief. Recognizing the unspoken anxieties and sorrows, women’s perspectives on life and art, and some of the things that happen to women every day, I find it easy to shrug. I hope it makes you feel that the novel is being seen by young women. But I also hope Eve is a fun person to spend time with and it’s also interesting that you want to shake, hug, and scream-we’re close friends. Everything you feel about.