Howard Cunnell Novel The Painter’s Friend

As ordinary readers will know, I can’t resist a novel with an artistic theme, so I raised my hand for a copy of Howard Cunnell’s the Painter’s Friend. That and the memory of the praise that followed his memoir fathers and Sons, which examined his own relationship with his father when his daughter passed on to his son. The above quote in this review comes from an inscription by Walter Crane on a floorboard exhibited by an artist whose installation cunnell visited, who sowed the germ for the subjects he explores in this engaging and beautifully written novel. Eat or rent, rent food.

Terry Godden is an artist who is going through more difficult times than many others and whose works exchange hands for exorbitant prices bought by collectors who are just as interested in playing in the money market as art itself, sometimes more. Terry’s painting of two former miners preparing to settle a bill long after one of them broke the devastating ‘ 80s strike caught the attention of a shopkeeper who promised Terry a show that never happened, leaving him with peril rage. Terry is unsheltered again and rents a boat moored on one of the London Islands. His neighbor, a well-dressed older man, takes no note of him, which suits Terry well. During the spring, despite his intentions.

Terry is dragged into the lives of the Islanders, each with a story, from the woman who flees from her powered partner, whose name is Stella, to Gene, who is relentlessly questioned by the police about the disappearance of his beloved son. When the Islanders discover a rent increase, a ploy by their wealthy developer to get them out, Terry comes up with a clever solution and turns the island into an outdoor gallery to draw the world’s attention.

Kaplan’s house, across the river, seemed to exist in starbursts that blew from every window of the house and from the tent placed on the large lawn.

Cunnell’s passion for the themes of art, pretense, and divisiveness that underlie her novel stems from the author’s note that complements her book and explains the inspiration behind it. Narrated by Terry’s voice, this is a captivating piece of stories with a rhythm of leaves, written in a picturesque but frugal and sleek style, evocative in the descriptions of the island and its inhabitants. The stark contrast between the privileged rich and those who will be made unsheltered by a rent increase of per quarter is becoming increasingly apparent. There is a rich irony towards the end of the novel, when Terry shows his own painting of the miners who have been unemployed for decades since the strike and who now adorn the walls of this rich man, the son of a Thatcher. I found it both fascinating and deeply moving. The ending is surprising, not easy to read, but it seemed too true.

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