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Baume returns with a powerful work of pseudo-fiction

Review by Ruth Gilligan

The first time we encounter the phrase "a line made by walking" in Sara Baume's novel of the same name, is when the protagonist, Frankie, describes a painting. The painting in question is Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent van Gogh, in which a path can be seen cutting through a gaudy field, set beneath a cantankerous sky.

Frankie explains that this is believed to be Van Gogh's last ever work before he killed himself (in those same fields), while his last ever words, according to Wikipedia, were "the sadness will last forever".

This melancholy little anecdote is symptomatic of the entire novel, and indeed of its protagonist, for Frankie is also an artist suffering from depression, hoping desperately that the sadness won't in fact last forever.

In an effort to avoid this being the case, she has decided to spend her 26th summer alone in her late grandmother's dilapidated countryside cottage.

"The point of being here," she explains, "is to recover."

Such a troubled soul, on the fringes of society, instantly calls to mind Ray, the protagonist of Baume's extraordinary debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

A Line Made By Walking as a whole raises some interesting autobiographical questions, since Baume - like her protagonist - also trained and practiced as a visual artist, and enjoys a remote existence in rural Ireland.

One is instantly put in mind of other recent works of autobiographical nature writing, such as Amy Liptrot's astounding The Outrun, or Helen Macdonald's multi-award-winning H is for Hawk.

This is not to say that Baume's book is in any way derivative. But actually, comparing her novel to other works of art feels particularly appropriate, given that throughout the book, Frankie forces herself to call to mind correspondent artistic pieces for every thought or observation she encounters.

In her latest offering, Sara Baume has once again proven that even the smallest lives can unveil the biggest truths.

As Frankie concludes: "Art is everywhere ... art is every inexplicable thing."

A Line Made by Walking may be a very sad, very quiet book, but it is an inexplicably powerful work of art.

  • A Line Made by Walking, by Sara Baume, Tramp Press, £12.99

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