I was bored rigid. We start with the spirit/shade of a Renaissance painter who is watching a boy/girl in a gallery (in London but it doesn’t actually say so) where one of his/her remaining paintings hangs. We then regress into the spirit/shade memory of his/her life as a painter in Ferrara, Italy where there is a whole wall of paintings by said artist in the Palazzo Schifanoia, the painter named as Francesco del Cossa.
Apart from twelve or so, extant, paintings and one letter we know next to nothing about this artist, so Ali Smith has woven a fantastical story about how he/she came to paint this mural; three parts of a large room showing gods, goddesses, daily life and the life of the owner: Borse, newly created Duke of Ferrara, and we know this because the painter wrote and asked for more money for the work since it was better than the work done by the other painters. If you have been to the Palazzo Schifanoia, you will probably agree with his/her estimation of the work. There truly is something ethereal, and I will admit feminine, about these particular panels.
Anyway, we learn how the paint was made, applied and so on; we follow the spirit/shade following the girl with her camera in the twentieth century; and in the second part of the novel, peculiarly still called ONE, we meet this girl, now a mother taking her fractious teenage daughter and much younger son on a trip to the Palazzo Schifanoia.
But bringing it all up to the present the spirit/shade is now following only the daughter…
There were so many things I didn’t like about this book. I didn’t like the idea, the style of writing, the ingenue use of capitals and numerals, the typesetting, BUT if you are reading this blog to this point – I did finish the book. It is something that I do.