Book Review : An Approach to Black by Emily Jeremiah

Over my time as a blogger one of the biggest delights has been discovering indie presses and in turn being introduced to a whole treasure trove of work that I was previously unaware of. A particularly delightful discovery has been Reflex Press. Over the past year I have been lucky enough to read several of their titles and, honestly, not one of them has let me down.

Yesterday one of their newest releases An Approach to Black by Emily Jeremiah dropped through the letter box. Within two hours I had devoured it and was settling down for a reread! This slim little novella packs a mighty punch.

The story centres around a 19th Century Finnish artist, Anna S, who married a fellow artist, Eino. Eino’s career flourished while Anna’s stalled with the arrival of children and it’s associated domesticity. Anna was subsequently committed to an asylum.

In London, in the present day, Anna appears to be little more than a footnote to Eino’s history but two people have taken an interest in her fate. One is is her great- great- great grandson Jonathan, a struggling and rather lost young artist, who has almost stumbled into Anna’s path. The other is Emma, a retired Finnish academic, who is writing a book about Anna.

Both Emma and Jonathan are looking for ways to take them out of their own lives and begin to strike up a friendship as they delve deeper into Anna’s story. Details are sketchy, but Emma particularly is determined to give Anna a story of her own.

This book is beautifully written with precise, sharp prose that perfectly conjures both setting and tone. In both Anna and Emma we see intelligent and talented women who are pushing at the boundaries of creativity, while bearing the burden of complex and sometimes destructive family life.

There is a deep sense of regret and indeed rage around Anna’s story. It is a familiar but no less tragic scenario, whereby a strong and talented women fails to conform to a stereotype or convenient role and ends up paying the ultimate price. It speaks for generations of women denied access to self expression, fulfilment and indeed basic liberty.

Skilfully woven and painted in the most delightful shades, take some time to wander among the images created by this work. It’s is a rare treat.

Rachel x