Painting Time

Farrar. Feb. 2021. 240p. tr. from French by Jessica Moore. ISBN 9780374211929. $27. F
As she did with The Cook, award-winning French author de Kerangal offers stunning portraiture suffused with the joy and meaning of work. Paula Karst labors in trompe-l’œil to render wood and stone realistically with paint, and de Kerangal takes great pains to show us how “this average girl, sheltered and predictable (and a little on the lazy side), … this impetuous dabbler … ended up plunging headlong” into a craft that readers will come truly to admire. (The excellent translation helps.) As Paula pursues her studies at Brussels’s rigorous Institut de Peinture, her eyes and muscles burning from 18-hour days, then plies her trade at film studios throughout Europe, the author dazzlingly describes the materials and techniques involved with an almost touchable physicality that matches the subject. Meanwhile, Paula comes of age, moving away from her befuddled parents and forging meaningful ties with classmates Kate and Jonas, who recommends her for the job that crowns the last third of the book: helping to create Lascaux IV, which replicates the famous prehistoric caves. Seeing Paula merge with the black deer she re-creates, feeling its fear of the woolly rhinoceros as time drops away, is enough to make one cry.
VERDICT There’s only one word for it: superbe.
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