Craig Laurance Gidney, A Spectral Hue, Word Horde, 2019.
A Spectral Hue is a remarkable story of hauntings. But it's not a horror novella. It actually deals more with the uncanny, the weird, and above all, it is about grief, art, and identity, particularly when you are oppressed.
The town of Shimmer, in Maryland in the USA, is next to a swamp. And in this swamp lives a being whose name may be Fuschia. It is also a town in which many people created amazing art, starting with Hazel Whitby, who was a slave and wove tapestries. An art student, Xavier Wentworth, comes to Shimmer to find out more about her and the other artists who followed in her steps, from the 19th century to our days, all drawn to representing obsessively the swamp, and a colour that is close to fuschia.
Like Hazel's tapestries, A Spectral Hue is a book of many threads. Do not come into it expecting a traditional, straightforward narrative. You'd be disappointed. Instead, you have a story that gently weaves the different stories, with Fuschia's story, the elusive and yet central one, illuminating all the others with her colour.
All the stories are stories about people who have been oppressed or marginalised, and these are the people who can feel Fuschia's calling: a slave, a former drug addict, a lesbian, all persons of colour. Whereas the white man who curates the local museum mutes the colours and life in the works he's in charge of.
These artists create amazing beauty because Fuschia haunts them. But it also alienates them from their self, for better or worse, thus asking some interesting questions about the obsession of artistic creation.
All of these characters are fascinating, and extremely well drawn. Hazel's tale is the most compelling, but I also loved the one about Xavier's landlady and her partner. Beyond the question of art, these tales also depict lives that can be harsh, that are often lonely, where people try to fully exist in an unfair society.
A Spectral Hue is a slow, meandering novella. It is infused with a sense of melancholy. But what struck me above all is the amazing work done by Gidney as he tried to depict colours. The prose is an absolute work of art and gives the reader both the melancholy tone, and the riotous colours of the creations.
Gidney has written a magnificent story that won't be everyone's cup of tea. But I loved the prose, I loved how he linked art and marginalised lives, creation and life, what you choose and what you can escape. It is, in the end, a hopeful tale about beauty and a community of spirits, even in the bleakest moments.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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