Both Anna James and Elizabeth Preston gushed about Benjamin Wood’s second novel, The Ecliptic over Twitter this summer. So, I asked Elizabeth for a review copy, and she kindly sent me one as soon as possible – thank you!
The first thing that caught my attention was that Benjamin Wood is a young British writer that I had not heard about. I am always interested in finding new, fresh voices in fiction, and I did not hesitate once to read his second novel. I was also interested in broadening my reading, because while some people read too many men authors, I tend to read mainly feminist women writers.
The Ecliptic is divided into four parts, each of them focusing on a different chapter in the main character’s life: a young British painter who has secluded herself at an exclusive retreat in the Mediterranean. When I found out about the plot, the book reminded me of The Magus by John Fowles, I novel I had to study. A novel I struggled a lot with, and a novel I have never truly finished reading. The Ecliptic may take some inspiration from Fowles’ most influential novel, but it is a work of art on its own.
Art, the artistic process, and how creativity and creation influence our lives are the main themes in the novel, and, the main character’s re-telling of her late teens, and early 20’s really struck a chord with me, even though I am not a painter myself. Sitting down to write, every day, to produce THE work of your life – like many people insist your PhD is – is a joyous, difficult path to take. However, I had a huge problems with the book, and here are some quotes to give you an idea about why:
“But not woman can improve her station in life without sacrificing a little of her identity.”
“I found these books [Middlemarch and Austen’s works] worthwhile and interesting, but perhaps not quite as formative as I expected […] The painter in me was drawn to other voices: to Melville’s artfulness and detail, to Conrad’s gloomy landscapes.”
“How I missed being Jim’s assistant.”
See where this is headed? Narrator and artist Elspeth Conroy is one great artist, but she struggles with her own identity, the lack of female role models, and even tries to subject herself to the role of a mediocre artist’ assistant. I hoped the narration would get better, I hoped Ellie found her own path, and proudly stated she is an artist, she is good, and she deserves the time, and space to create. But, instead, she is not able to deal with her need to create, and her artistic self. She struggles, even verging on mental health issues, and while this is a great topic – and we do not need super women in every book – it raises some questions about the unsuitability of the creative life for women, an idea that has stopped women from becoming artists for centuries.
So, although The Ecliptic offers an interesting perspective on the creative life, it fails terribly at women’s representation.