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Monday, March 30, 2015

‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ by Gabrielle Williams

From the BLURB:

A rock chick.

An artist with attitude.

A girl with a past.

A party animal.

Four lives collide when one of the world's most famous paintings is stolen. It's a mystery that has the nation talking, but while Picasso's Weeping Woman might be absent from the walls of the National Gallery, in other parts of Melbourne the controversial painting's presence is being felt by Guy, Rafi, Luke and Penny for four very different reasons.

Life, love, art and one giant party intersect in this offbeat comedy about good intentions, unexpected consequences and the irresistible force of true love.

‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ is the new young adult novel from Australian author Gabrielle Williams.

So I had the absolute pleasure of reading this story when it was still a manuscript, and now it’s in my hot little hand as a finished book and I need people to know that it’s one of my favourites of 2015, and should be on everyone’s must-read list.

Allow me to explain …

This book opens with a history lesson;

On 2 August 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings – Picasso’s Weeping Woman – off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it to ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police. 
The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.

Pretty cool, right? You can definitely see how this little slice of Aussie history got the wheels churning in Gab William’s very clever, writerly mind. The theft of The Weeping Woman has its own Wikipedia page and everything – and is even more intensely fascinating because there’s so many question marks hanging over the whole episode (that’s where Williams steps in with some creative licence for this story!).

‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ is narrated by an omniscient narrator, as we follow the four very different characters of the title (Guy, Rafi, Luke and Penny) each of whom is in some way touched by the disappearance of The Weeping Woman. I almost don’t want to say too much about any of the main characters, because it will give too much away about how each of them fits into this mystery puzzle like pieces of a jigsaw. I will say that through these four young characters, Gabrielle Williams explores everything from school atrophy, grief and mental illness, single-parenthood and egomania.

And while the whole story hangs on a famous piece of artwork – from one of the forefathers of Cubism, no less – the book isn’t necessarily about the transcendence or even the beauty of art. Instead it looks at a darker side of the profession and imagination – at the pursuit of beauty no matter the cost, and the manic-drive to create that which is in our heads, even at the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth struggle of most artists. There are even some very funny interludes in the form of letters-to-the-editor, where people complain about the ugly impenetrableness of art – and these had me laughing-out-loud.

I’ve got to say, Gab William’s exploration of the darker side to the art world is utterly refreshing. I’m currently struggling to chew my way through Jandy Nelson’s Printz-winning I’ll Give You The Sun which is lovely but full-to-bursting at the seams with talk of the magical, healing properties of art creation and appreciation and I’ve got to say … I roll my eyes at a lot of it. Going from that book to Gabrielle Williams’ is like taking a big gulp of refreshing, no-bullshit air. I especially appreciate Gab William’s frankness because the pivot-point of her novel is Picasso’s Weeping Woman, and there’s even some exploration here of the “great master” as kind of a misogynist – it feels like there’s some Guerilla Girls politics subtext in this book, for the way a male-driven art world is portrayed in none-too flattering light against the women who are sometimes trodden on in their pursuit of greatness.

I also loved this book for the reason I love most of Gab William’s books – Melbourne. From her first Beatle Meets Destiny to The Reluctant Hallelujah, I always love seeing my city through Gab’s eyes on the page. And Melbourne of the 80’s through Gab’s eyes is pure enjoyment;

The Crystal Ballroom was all sticky carpet and cigarette smoke and body-slamming music. The Withers had come and gone, and John Lydon (ex-Johnny Rotten) had just taken the stage. He gripped the microphone in his fist and yelled, ‘God Save the Queen,’ out to the audience, riling them up and making Penny feel chalky and brittle. She hadn’t realised punk was still such a big thing in Melbourne. She thought it had died back in the late seventies, but apparently not. Not if the spiky, safety-pinned crowd at the Crystal Ballroom was anything to go by.

I also loved ‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ because it’s a young adult book edging towards New Adult. There are characters in their early-20’s here who are so relatable for all the ways that their life is still hanging onto the dregs of childhood, and they have some tough times ahead that nudges them more fully into adulthood … but the same way that Gab takes the glowing sheen off the art world, she likewise portrays both teen years and early-20’s in equal hardships, highlighting the many ways we can all stand to grow up a little bit more.

I love ‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’. I loved it in manuscript form, and now that it’s a finished book I love it even more. I can’t even begin to tell you how much you need this book in your life right now.



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