Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Sleeping Embers Of An Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind: A Novel

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock
Published in America by Amazon imprint 47North in December 2015.

Where to buy this book:



Amazon UK

Amazon US




The Book Depository



How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

History is storytelling. But some stories remain untold. In fifteenth-century Italy, Paolo Uccello recognizes the artistic talent of his young daughter, Antonia, and teaches her how to create a masterpiece. The girl composes a painting of her mother and inadvertently sparks an enduring mystery.
In the present day, a copyist painter receives a commission from a wealthy Chinese businessman to duplicate a Paolo Uccello painting. Together, the painter and his teenage daughter visit China, and in doing so they begin their escape from a tragic family past.
In the twenty-second century, a painting is discovered that’s rumored to be the work of Paolo Uccello’s daughter. This reawakens an art historian’s dream of elevating Antonia Uccello, an artist ignored by history because of her gender. Stories untold. Secrets uncovered. But maybe some mysteries should remain shrouded.

Sleeping Embers Of An Ordinary Mind caught my attention for its wonderful title which I learned is from a Laura Cereta quote. In the book, Charnock tells three stories side-by-side, each tenuously linked by the art of fifteenth century painter Paolo Uccelli and his daughter, thirteen year old Antonia. Antonia's is one of our three protagonists. Living as she really did in fifteenth century Italy, her short life -she died aged thirty-five - was spent primarily within the walls of a convent. Charnock imagines this as the only way her father could ensure her freedom to paint professionally. A husband of the time would surely not have allowed a career for his wife. This rang very true for me having not so long ago read Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel, a biography of a comparable woman's life.

Charnock's second thread is Toni, a teenager in 2015 who has travelled to China with with her art copyist father. He too encourages his daughter's artistic talents, but in this time period there isn't a question of art or marriage. Indeed, for Toni such decisions for her future aren't even on the cards yet even though she is the same age as our historical Antonia.

In the year 2113, Toniah is a single woman in her twenties living with her sister and niece in a wholly female household. Due to technological advances, husbands and fathers are no longer necessary for human reproduction and Charnock presents a vision of a Britain where male-excluded households are becoming commonplace and Toniah's work as an art historian is reinstating women who were 'inadvertently overlooked' by traditional patriarchal history.

I enjoyed reading all three stories, especially the historical one, and liked how Charnock asks questions about gender and the importance of balance. Her protagonists' lives have factors in common as well as divergence and I was interested in her portrayal of the differences in female freedom as well as what I thought was a 'is this too far?' question in her futuristic scenario. Some of the dialogue doesn't quite sit right for its character, but overall I found the characters themselves to be well thought through and believable. What I didn't like about the book though, and what really ruined it for me, was the abruptness of the ending. It just stops with Antonia/Toni/Toniah each poised on the threshold of their futures and no sense of closure. I have since read elsewhere that this deliberate device on Charnock's part was inspired by other works she had read, leaving the story open to the reader's imagination, but I was left feeling rather that at least a quarter of the novel was simply missing.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Anne Charnock / Science fiction / Books from England

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