Thursday, July 19, 2012

Keeping The World Away by Margaret Forster

Hardback: 338 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher:  Chatto and Windus 2006
Source: Charity Bookshop in UK in 2010.
First Sentence:  Chapter One 'The wind pushed and forced them along, great savage gusts of it,stinging their ears, penetrating their scarves, whipping their uncovered hair into fierce tangles, slicing through their coats and chilling their small bodies so completely they were crying and gasping for breath before ever they reached the steps.'

Review Quote:  "Forster has a god-given gift for storytelling" The Times
My Opinion
:  A
 perfect example of why I have been enjoying the novels of Margaret Forster since the late nineteen sixties.

'Keeping The World Away' is a novel about a painting and the women whose lives it touches, original and a fabulous read, a perfect example of why I have been enjoying the novels of Margaret Forster since the late nineteen sixties. This is not an exaggeration, I find her work just as appealing now as I did all those years ago. What makes 'Keeping The World Away' so fascinating is the fact that it has taken the painting of a real life artist Gwen John(1876-1939) as its subject with the novels title coming from the artist's own notebooks. She was a known recluse and to quote from those notebooks "Rules to Keep the World Away: Do not listen to people more than is necessary; do not look at peoplemore than is necessary ; have as little intercourse with people as possible".
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, A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris

    Author Profile
                     Image courtesy of Eamonn McCabe
Margaret Forster was born in Carlisle, England on May 25th 1938, where she grew up and lived until going to Somerville CollegeOxford to read modern history. Since graduating in 1961, after a brief period as a teacher she has gone on to work as  a novelist, biographer and freelance literary critic, contributing regularly to book programmes on television, radio and various newspapers and magazines. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1975.
She has been married to to the writer, journalist and broadcaster Hunter Davies since the day after she finished her final exams in 1961, having met and fallen in love when she was just seventeen. 
The biographical information and photos used in this post are with thanks to the following websites.
I have chosen to read this title as the letter K for The A - Z Book Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here.   


  1. Wow Lindy, that's amazing to read about the challenge.

    I must admit you are very dedicated and i am sure you will complete the challenge.

    This is such a wonderful book.

    The first sentence was wonderful. I haven't checked the link, will do so later. But wanted to congratulate on this wonderful review and also, this goes into my TBR list. I will read it.

    Currently, I am reading the Tamarind City and few books that will follow.

    But this looks like a good read.

  2. Sounds like a good read, will you be book mooching it?

  3. Diventia@ I do hope to complete the challenge, so far so good.

    Maggie@ Unfortunately not, sorry I would have liked to have been able to send you this one, as I think you would enjoy it.


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