White on White

Riverhead. Nov. 2021. 192p. ISBN 9780593330517. $26. F
A woman travels to an unnamed European city to research nudity in medieval art for her dissertation. Through her department, she’s rented an apartment owned by an eminent historian, but almost immediately the historian’s wife Agnes, a painter, moves into an attic room and doesn’t leave. At first, the narrator is charmed by her new roommate’s introspection and chic personal style and their intellectual conversations on art-making. But she grows frustrated with Agnes’s intrusions on her time, and there are clues that all is not well with Agnes’s marriage or her mental state. Agnes’s story, told through the nameless narrator, feels at a remove but in a positive sense, like stepping back from a painting for reflection and study. The narrator is almost a minor character in comparison; readers learn about her mainly through her research on cathedrals and medieval texts.
VERDICT From a lesser writer, this storytelling technique would be fraught with peril, but in her follow-up to Walking on the Ceiling Savas offers a novel as smooth and compact as an alabaster egg, its prose filled with thoughtful sentences and psychological insights. An engaging yet calming read, as soothing as a talk with a sympathetic therapist.
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