Book Review for “An Approach to Black” by Emily Jeremiah.
Summary: This novel “traces the fate of Finnish artist Anna S. and her legacy. It’s the late nineteenth century, and Anna is married to Eino, another artist. Eino gains fame and recognition for his idyllic evocations of family life. Anna, meanwhile, goes mad and is confined to an institution. In present-day London, two people are driven to try and understand Anna: a young artist named Jonathan, who is descended from Anna and Eino, and retired Finnish academic Emma, who is writing a book about her.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, Finland, London, Berlin; Other Categories: Novel, Art, Artists, Historical, Mental Illness.
Let me start out by saying my thanks to Rachel @ Bookbound for turning me onto this novella. Her review was so interesting that I went out and immediately bought this little book of only 80 pages, and finished it in a record ONE day (which is fast even for dyslexic me)! Warning: this is going to be a fairly short review because the book is so short.
The first thing you’ll notice here is the totally luscious language here. Jeremiah is best known for her translations of Finish novels into English, so she’s got the chops to pull something like this off. What she’s done is write a very ethereal, almost dreamlike book, where it starts with Anna S. in what seems to be her experiences in the asylums. It then jumps to the modern era section, basically chronologically, but from a different viewpoint. Still, even in this has a fragile feel to it, as if the investigations into Anna S. and her life are done tentatively.
You’ll also notice that Jeremiah doesn’t use much conventional punctuation here. I know that can turn some readers off, but I believe that in this case, it was very effective and not at all distracting. This was probably because conversations and thoughts were formatted slightly differently, so that I could mostly understand when characters were speaking, and when they were just moving through the scenes with their thoughts. However, this was somewhat inconsistently applied, and there were times when I did get confused about what was going on and with whom.
I also have to say that the opening parts, with Anna S.’s story, were the most compelling parts for me, and she turned out to be more sympathetic of a character than either Jonathan or Emma. In fact, Emma was my least favorite character, and it took me a while to figure out that she was no longer a young woman. Maybe this was because Jeremiah wrote her as being waif-like, much like Jeremiah’s style of storytelling.
All told, I really enjoyed reading this short book, and although it wasn’t perfect, I truly appreciated Jeremiah’s writing, which was very poetic and vivid with its descriptions. I think she needs to work on developing her characters a bit more, and I could have used another 80 pages to help with that. Otherwise, I’d say this is well worth the read, and I’ll recommend it with a healthy four out of five stars.
Reflex Press released “An Approach to Black” by Emily Jeremiah on August 3, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery (UK and US), the website Books-A-Million, new or used from Alibris, or UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). You can also buy this directly from Reflex Press (not an affiliate link), which includes a link to their eBay story for EU customers.