Poets, Artists, Lovers, by Mira Tudor, 2017

Title: Poets, Artists, Lovers

Author: Mira Tudor

Publisher: Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing

Genre: Contemporary Women’s Literature

Format: Ebook

Language: Language

No. of pages: 166

Publication Date: August 4, 2017

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

ASIN: B074L8W7XS

Synopsis:

PAL is a fast-paced yet poignant character-driven novel, written in a witty and bittersweet romantic key reminiscent in parts of David Nicholls’s books (One Day), and set in the exciting world of several vibrant Romanian artists and musicians.

Henriette, an accomplished sculptor, seems to find more joy in her feminist-inspired work and her piano playing than in the people who care about her. Ela, a piano teacher turned book reviewer, hopes to discover the key to happiness and a more meaningful life through studying the workings of the mind and crafting poems about emotions she trusts will lead her to a better place. Joining them in beauty and blindness is Pamfil, a violinist who dabbles as a singer and lives mostly for the moment and his monthly parties. As they follow their passions, they find themselves on treacherous journeys to love and happiness, and are slow to figure out how to best tackle their predicaments. Fortunately, their lovers and friends are there to help . . . but then a newcomer complicates things.

My review:

Poets, Artists, Lovers is a great book – it is deep and sentimental, funny at times, but engrossing and makes you sink dee into thought yourself. I tried to write a short review but I guess I have too many notes made from when I read it – such was its power over me.

The intertextual references are a nice inclusion and brings in many themes from different times and different minds to the instances in the novel. Moreover, the extensive talks on the works of various musical artists, sculptors like Rodin etc. in relation to life itself gave another layer to this story. Throughout the novel, music is also a key binding element. There is also a lot of philosophy in the book, and being a student of English literature, I quite enjoyed them as well. The author’s own proficiency in these fields can be seen through her characters.

There is a cinematographic aspect to the novel, maybe because of the gradual changes in the background that are not brought to the forefront – it is very much a character driven novel, after all – but also due to the whimsical quality that permeates throughout. Moreover, the inclusion of the visual arts, and also pop culture, make it an intriguing read.

This is truly an art book – much like the art movies that wonder us so. Maybe I am a melancholic reader myself but wouldn’t you agree that so much of the melancholy in the book is beautiful –

Yes. It actually talks of something that makes me think of solitude that grows and grows and is ever harder to take apart. Solitude that threatens to displace everything in its path.”

I found this part completely nostalgic and yet the delivery of the lines is so beautiful. The same can be said of the entire book. I now long for a hardcopy I can keep on my bedside table to read every now and then –

“I also rediscovered emails I saved,” Alice went on. “Reviewing some of them the other day felt like reading about a different person. If I had not recognized some terms of endearment, I would have thought someone else had written them. I was full of enthusiasm, all exclamation points and smiles. I didn’t recognize myself. I realized I had forgotten so much of myself, of my former self,” Alice added pensively.

Special mention for this poem that Ela wrote – it was so very beautiful, I think I may work my calligraphy magic on it and then frame it up-

She then got up and retrieved from her purse her most recent poem, which she had finished and printed out just before she left home that day. It was titled “After So Many Years,” and it went, when I cry, you cry inside me harder, when I stake out my spot in the wilderness I find you there, winding me, in the darkness, in the light, shaking my bed sheets, so I can’t sleep, or love another; I wonder who’s by your side now, in the darkness, in the light, if you’re crying, or if you’re lonely and silent, walking into the wilderness from an empty table and a floor littered with a handful of breadcrumbs you leave in your path for love to eventually find you and feed you, after all these years.

Sometimes the novel also felt like reading absurdist literature because sometimes the characters talk about such normal pointless things that it sort of seems absurd when seen in context of life in the book throughout. Of course, this is a very personal point of view. But this also brings in the debate over existentialism and the essence of being.

Themes

The part where Alice and Anca are discussing about Henriette’s latest sculpture of pairs of breasts at different consecutive age decade, is one I found very bittersweet. How true it is that we are so much fixated on youth – we are so vain – I for one, despair that I am 20 now, when the heroines in all the fantasy books I love are not yet 20 and have still accomplished and gone through so much. 

“The point being that in this youth-fixated Western world we don’t realize how invisible the human body becomes after a certain age. When I first saw two naked seventy-five-year-olds making love in a movie, and enjoying their bodies together at the edge of the sea, I was shocked. And I had seen Alice Neel’s paintings and other images like that.”

Other body image issues also crop in, and Ela says –

“My mother says that young healthy women with strong willpower should make sure they’re slim, or else they send the message that they don’t have enough willpower, or that they’re not healthy.”

It leads to mental health issues as well.
Ela and her mental health issues; depression is truly an ugly viper-

“If only that pain and sinking feeling would disappear at all. It may take a while, though. It still takes me hours some mornings to get rid of them. I’m glad I have the books and my poems to give me a feeling of purpose strong enough to beat the ache out of my system. Or maybe it’s the concentration that does it. I’ve been able to concentrate better lately.”

Sibling tension is also portrayed well in this book.

Alice looked at her sister in silence, taking the latter’s acrimony in stride. “Sorry, Henriette, that I’m not more talented,” she spoke after a few beats. Her calm was that of someone who has felt and said that many times.

The utter clogging at my throat was real when I read these lines. To be second-best and that to against a sibling is truly a hard thing and for one to be so used to it to be able to simply admit it, is heart wrenching. Since I am currently taking a short story paper in university, I came across this story by Alice Walker, Everyday Use, where the younger daughter Maggie says – “She can have them, Mama”, she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. The despondency and the dejection that comes from reading these lines from two different texts is a bittersweet experience.

In chapter 10, when Alice and Anca are talking, and Alice points out that since Anca has so many problems with her boyfriend, Marcel, she could just leave him. But Anca says no

“Because it could turn out to be for good,” Anca said. “And I’ve invested too much in this relationship.” “Really?” Alice said, in mock surprise. “That’s your argument?” “I love him,” Anca said powerfully. “Not for what he is now, but for what he was and what I think he can be again. He’s not being himself these days. He’s either trying too hard or sabotaging any chance at happiness.”

This really made me think about our relationships – how sometimes, we try to settle down despite that prick in our minds, and because we are used to used and now comfortable. We would rather live with that ache on our sides forever, than to move and settle somewhere new.

The use of the stream of consciousness method is also clear. For instance, in the paragraph in chapter 8, as Ela keeps on speaking –

“Yes, at first I thought that was it, but in reality I was in shock,” Ela said, taking a gulp from her mug. “He turned my whole world upside down, and I was asking myself all these questions: what it means to live life with a passion, or with love, or with a mixture of the two, what it means to feel both passion and love for the same person, what it means to love someone and life and God, what kind of passion and love you need for that …” She picked up another brownie and bit into it. “These brownies are really different from how I usually make them. They’re very good, aren’t they? And the recipe was very similar to mine. Same ingredients, just different quantities.” She drank some more of her tea. “I don’t think he was in love with Ettie,” she said, her gaze meeting Alice’s.

There are significant other instances too-
Marcel’s mother says a very important thing to Maria, friend of Anca –

“We’re complex creatures, Maria. Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one thing in this world for you. Be creative with your life. Learn many skills. Don’t ever get complacent or lazy. You never know what life may throw at you, and you have to be prepared. We don’t live under communism anymore. You have to be ready to change paths if one vocation doesn’t pan out. Or a certain job. Don’t wait too long, either. Life is so very short.”

The book also portrays the utter complexities of human emotions and human relationships, with so many shadows harrowing them. For instance, The Thinker and the Lover movie that Ela, Henriette and Pamfil saw and the resultant discussion that they had was very enlightening in itself. And then later, the sudden competitiveness that comes up between Henriette and Ela is noticeable. 

Other important motifs I saw throughout-out were – the non-linearity of time in the story as the author tells it (which is also so reflective of the non-linearity in one’s own life today), how one event can trigger another – for instance in Ela’s case, seeing Pamfil and Henriette together, leading to her leaving her job and becoming a book reviewer, or even the case of completely disregarding our sadness and overworking out body, as we try to replace the emotional or mental ache with the physical pain.

The author has brought in various modern instances – psychological, for instance, the things we do to alleviate anxiety, like online chatting, the need for real communication and the fact that what we get in lieu of that is an utter travesty, compartmentalization in regards to men and women, as explained by Pamfil, which I agree mostly with.

Characters

At some points, I felt sad for Pamfil – to live such a hollow life – maybe he never felt it and it is only I the reader who thinks as such.

“I think he’d never learned to love,” Ela said. “Love with a passion and tenderly and on a higher level. Just like me. I mean I hadn’t either. I only began to love this way after I methim.Only after he shook my whole way of looking at things.” “That doesn’t make much sense, his teaching you a kind of love he hasn’t grasped himself,” Alice said.

But then again, in chapter 14, when Marie asks him what his favourite pleasure was, Pamfil had replied as follows.
And I think that, really explains him and those few words are enough to tell us everything about him- why he does what he does and so on.

“The pleasure of being young,” Pamfil said, stretching his arms over the table for her hands.

The post-transformation Ela, if you could prefer to call that phase her transformatory years, is one I really liked. Her ideas for a book are also so magically spoken that I was enraptured.

“It starts with wandering around like Alice—not you,” she said with a smile as she read from a paper with put-on panache, “living a life of superimposed uncertainties—you know, uncertain about my purposes in life but no underlying tectonic plate motion to make me really seek a higher love—until they’re suddenly flung out… finding myself chained to barren solitude, and then slowly taking revolving steps to grind away my memories, feeling my way around them devoid of meaning, bereft of a soul, till, slowly, a zephyr drifts in, and I hear its call to make it beautiful, to make emptiness sing as I push it out, to wind through words as if it matters.” She took a deep breath. “And then I start the story. That was just the prologue.”

We find her this new person who is slowly learning herself and as she says, also learning to love George again. The character arc of Ela is really interesting. Although we do not see her much towards the beginning, after her transformation, this new Ela is at least superficially sure of what she feels and thinks. Her discussions with Henriette regarding happiness and health etc., although may not seem very significant, but the manner of her speaking is to be noted.

Henriette nodded, even though she had never been a big fan of his poetry, and accepted the printout, thinking how funny it was that he had just mentioned women trying to change him. Then her mood grew somber. Haralambie’s verse was now darker in his pronouncements. His poem, loosely inspired by Miguel Hernández’s “Después del amor” (“After the Love”), talked of solitudes so hard they were impossible to crush, firm obstacles in the path of happiness, boulders that not even time could erode much in the course of a lifetime.

– This of course made me check out the poem and I as was expected fell in love with it. I think that even though Haralambie or Har, might not show it overtly, the breakup with Henriette really affected him. His innate habits are so very different by the end of the novel. For instance, Henriette notices that unlike before, he smirks a lot now. And his entire demeanor is that of a very much cynical or disillusioned man. Moreover, he reminisces unconsciously again when they meet in chapter 15 –

I don’t think you did, because some people—and you are one of them—are not capable of wasting time. It’s part of what I liked so much about you,” he said.

As for George I found him a very sweet man, always being there for Ela despite the three years of chaos that was wrought upon their relationship.

But does Marcel really understand Anca? Years ago, at his 17th birthday party, when the utter chaos of the party had overwhelmed her, he did not even understand her feelings from her expression. So is his love, love, if he cannot truly understand her?

I found the ending a bit ambiguous. What did that enigmatic smile that Henriette let escape her lips mean?

There are also a few literary masterpieces of quotes that I took from the book:

“she felt life rippling softly through her body, slowing and quieting the rattle of her thoughts, her high hobbyhorses—being clever, being cultured, being creative—were swept by the immense relief and joy of riding, light and supple, the surf of the present, her mind, body, and soul in harmony.”

“There is no routine with a loved one. Lovers are supposed to change each other all the time” – Pamfil says.

“You know what I think? Some of us love some people once, and then we love them forever.” – Alice says to Anca.

And

“Later that week Anca sent a number of poems to the magazine Literary Romania. “Tell Me” was among them. It talked of roasted potatoes and onions, rooibos tea with honey, and perky sad music on the CD player. It considered whether life is ever more than swapping stories in a kitchen over a poor man’s meal shared threeways, each bite charmed with sunlight and music. It described an intoxicating scene with a long-haired woman in a vaporous dress, pirouetting on the kitchen table to humor her boyfriend, who then grabbed her by the thighs and hips and put her down in front of the piano, where she played God knows what, for she used no sheets, and she and her man were the only musicians in the room. Finally, it mentioned her bare foot pushing the brass pedal with conviction, her launching into Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, whirling its listeners like a tornado, and her cutting loose as more water for tea boiled on the stove, and the guests were invited to crack walnut shells for a makeshift dessert.”

Verdict:

I was exultant in blissful calm and contentment when I finished the book. Let me explain myself… You know how there are some books that give you a sense of peace after you finish reading them? It’s like you enjoy reading the book – annotate and underline a ton of lines and reread some parts again and again; and after finishing the book, you just hug it close to your heart because after this book – this experience, rather – you feel that you have changed? This is what I felt for this book. I do not know why. Maybe it is because it touched upon so many issues that we all relate to despite age/geographical differences, or because of the pure art that it is, or maybe even because as a literature student I was mesmerized by it… But nonetheless, I am sure that I shall surely be picking up this book soon. It has been one of the best books I have ever read!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

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