An eclectic, intimate and beautifully written novel about mental health, loneliness, and Art Installations.

opening remarks

I really didn’t like Sara Baume’s debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither.  It was one of the few books I didn’t finish in 2015.  And yet, throughout the year, people whose tastes I respect kept praising her latest novel, this novel, A Line Made By Walking.  I still had no intention of picking it up that is until the bloomin’ Goldsmith Prize, the greatest literary award ever invented, decided to nominate the book for this year’s shortlist.  And given I’d already ground my way through Will Self’s Phone (another Goldsmith nominee which, to be fair, isn’t a travesty of a novel, it’s just not my thing… go on check out my review) I couldn’t really say no to reading it.

knee-jerk observations

I did not know about this:

Although Frankie, our first-person narrator, is a troubled character, there is something about the way she sees the world through the lens of art that makes her inherently interesting.

After suffering a nervous break-down, Frankie heads to rural Ireland to take up residence in her grandmother’s cottage, vacated the last three years since her grandmother passed.  Frankie desires the isolation, believing she can make sense of the world if she spends time alone with only the wind turbines and cows to keep her company.

What I love about this book already (and I’ve only just started) is how keenly observed it is.  Frankie’s intense consideration of everything, which can be exhausting to read about, does generate some profound insights.  Take this for example:

I just love this description. Especially the last sentence:

In reading A Line Made By Walking I’m learning quite a bit about some of the most famous works of Installation Art.  More than a couple of the examples, though, are just fucked up:

To keep herself stimulated out in the boondocks of rural Ireland, Frankie begins an art project that involves photographing dead animals.  She has rules though – she can’t have killed the animal or take the photo of one that’s injured but not quite dead.  On the way home from having seen a psychiatrist she encounters the mangled corpse of a rook only to discover, on closer inspection, it is still breathing.  Because of her rules, she waits in her car for the rook to die.  It reads like the action of a sociopath, someone lacking empathy for a dying animal.  But in actuality it’s emblematic of Frankie’s state of mind, her sense of isolation and deep loneliness.  Just her and the rook and the closing in of the day:

This book has a wicked sense of dry humour:

To be fair that’s how I imagined it as well, except swap Australia for China and Alf and Irene from Home and Away with Sandy and Pigsy from Monkey (yes, I know the show wasn’t made in China… come on I was 7!)

The Gist of It

This time I finished a novel by Sara Baume, which sounds like I deserve a pat on the back, as if I’ve taken a bullet so none of you need read A Line Made By Walking, but in actuality is an indication of how much I loved this novel.  It’s so good I’m even half compelled to give her debut another crack.

While it took me nearly five days to finish A Line Made By Walking – a long time, at least for me, for a 300-page book – that’s not because I found it a chore.  Rather I was sick for a couple of days and this isn’t the sort of novel you can read while your thoughts are centred on your bowel movements (not that any of you needed to know that).  The point is, I was never not fully engaged in Frankie’s daily communion with her thoughts.  If it isn’t already clear from my carefully slap-dashed observations above Frankie is someone who thinks a great deal, about art, about the world, about her own mental health.  This is a novel that belies plot for a narrative that evokes isolation and loneliness and the struggle to express yourself when your musings are a mix of sharply observed truths about the world – Frankie’s insights are very quotable – and a confused mess of paranoia and insecurity.  In amongst all this, and the real highlight of the book, are Frankie’s many references to artworks mostly installations that (a) were educational – I googled a bunch of them – and (b) acted as a calming influence on Frankie, focussing her on the now.  I could probably make a banal and obvious statement about art and mental health and how the two are linked but I think Sara Baume does that fine enough.

You should certainly read this wonderful, articulate, eclectic and intimate novel.  I won’t be forgetting Frankie in a hurry.