Wednesday 10 February 2016

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood

On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. Elspeth 'Knell' Conray is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, working on her elusive masterpiece.
But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is 'The Ecliptic', and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England? 

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood was published in hardback by Scribner on 2 July 2015, the paperback edition was published on 28 January 2016.  The Ecliptic is Benjamin Wood's second novel, his first The Bellewether Revivals was published in February 2012.

I'd heard loads of great things about The Ecliptic on social media and was really keen to read it. It did take a lot of tracking down, there aren't many bookshops around here, and my local Waterstone's didn't have it in stock. I was delighted to find a gorgeous hardback copy in Waterstone's Birmingham, the last one in fact.

The existence of the  island of Portmantle, just off the Turkish coast is unknown to most people. Entry is by strict invitation only, and the inhabitants are all artists; writers, painters, architects, who have, for varying reasons, lost their way in the art world. Some only stay a short while, but Knell and her friends, MacKinney, Quickman and Pettifer have been there for many years. So many years that they've almost forgotten their original names and struggle to remember what decade it is, let alone what the actual date is.

Settled in their daily routines, and following the rigid rules set by the Provost who rules over the island, these artists are determined that they will, one day, be great again. Knell hides herself away in her studio creating and dismissing, convinced that despite the acclaim that she has received for her work in the past, she will never be good enough.

When teenage Fullerton arrives on Portmantle, the lives of the inhabitants change. Knell is determined that she will look after this strange, fragile and disturbed boy. Fullerton's presence triggers emotions in Knell that lead to the reflection of her life so far, and how she came to arrive on Portmantle.

The reader is then treated to Knell's story in full. From Scotland, to London and on to New York, life in the 1960s, becoming an established author, and falling love. When the setting moved from Portmantle, I was disappointed as I loved the feeling of life on the island and the eclectic mix of characters. However, I soon became immersed in Knell's, or Elspeth's, as she was known then, story.

We then arrive back on Portmantle and events and happenings seem to gel together. The reader is served up a host of twists and turns and a fairly huge revelation at the end.  Whilst the ending, for me, was very unexpected, it is also satisfying and ties up some loose endings.

Benjamin Wood has a very distinctive style of writing. His prose is incredibly atmospheric and his characters are larger than life. I was smitten by his descriptions of life on Portmantle, and became quite obsessed with Knell/Elspeth's back story, set in the 1960s, one of my favourite periods to read about.

The Ecliptic is a fascinating story that defies any labelling, is it a thriller, a mystery, I'm not sure. I am sure however, that it is quite challenging, but also explores many themes. The creative mind is a complex thing and this is the theme that runs through the story.

Quite striking, and beautifully written - a perceptive and challenging novel. I look forward to reading more by Benjamin Wood.

Benjamin Wood was born in 1981 and grew up in the North-West of England.
He is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, and the author of the highly acclaimed debut novel The Bellwether Revivals

Check out his website for more information about him and his books.
Follow him on Twitter @bwoodauthor


1 comment:

  1. So pleased you enjoyed it Anne. I loved it. I'd really enjoyed Ben's debut novel, and it's always a delicate moment when a favourite author publishes that 'difficult second novel'. Can it possibly live up to the first? Ecliptic not only lived up to his debut - in my opinion it surpassed it. Like Bellwether, it was a fascinating insight into a creative mind, teetering on the brink. And what a tour de force to write a women's point of view so convincingly. A fab read from one of the good guys.