Written by Books

Nightshade by Annalena McAfee

Eve Laing is an artist who works in her London studio on works based around very accurate reproductions of flowers. But she is perhaps most famous as the muse of another painter, and for moving in the same circles in the sixties and seventies as a number of other more successful artists.

She did find fame with her take flora take on the tube map, but she’s working towards her biggest piece yet.

We learn her story in flashback as she travels across London one December night, as her mind jumps around her life so far. Her life has been very exciting and not without controversies. She has had her fair share of partners, and now finds herself married to a successful architect who doesn’t pay her an enormous amount of attention. She has a daughter via another man, but their relationship isn’t what it might be.

Eve’s career is going places. She’s just had a successful gallery showing in London, and has a retrospective due to appear in New York. Meanwhile her agent is managing a bidding war amongst collectors looking to get their hands on her new work.

In her studio she has a number of assistants to help her source materials, but she is beginning to become a bit obsessed with one younger man who’s working there.

I really enjoyed this look at contemporary arts, something I know very little about. I would guess that certain people and places in this novel are not exactly heavily disguised versions of some real artists and galleries, although there are plenty of real artists and galleries that get name-checked.

I thought of some of the “fake-lives” novels of William Boyd as I read this, although the narrative is very much told from the perspective of today, as Eve thinks back to those times earlier in her life, and the actions she took.

The book absolutely captures something in an almost dreamlike way. And when Eve is turfed out of a broken-down tube train, anyone with a knowledge of central London streets can very much follow her progress across the city.

I was held to the end.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC. Nightshade is out now in hardback and ebook, and out in paperback on 5 August 2021.