An Approach to Black

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Title: An Approach to Black

Writer: Emily Jeremiah

Publishing House: Reflex Press

Date of Publication: August 3rd 2021

Rating: 4 stars

‘’Dare I hope that I shall go outside again? Dare I hope that I shall live again, beyond this existence in this cell? Night – times I am pursued by visions and wake up clammy. These are visions; by day, I know it. By night I am the subject of an exhibition, open to the world, and everyone is laughing, or grimacing with disgust – such a pitiful exhibit, laid out flat like a fish there. Such a nothing, somebody says, a man’s voice.’’

Anna, Helena, Eino. Three figures of a past that is never far away. Anna. An artist that was forgotten by the all-male Art world, left to fight against dangerous, sneaky enemies. Her husband and his envy. Jonathan and Emma. Two people of our time who try to understand their Art and themselves. From Helsinki to London and Berlin, this is a story about Art, cruelty, loneliness and the need to continue.

‘’Who took my sight away? Who took my soul away?’’

Emily Jeremiah creates beautiful images to communicate the themes that enrich her story. The Finnish moonlight, the cries of the crows and the magpies, the evening light through the birch trees, the echoes of the Kalevala epic. There is a distinctive, strong Finnish voice throughout the story. And then, we have Art as a means to free yourself from the shackles that others have placed around your soul. Manipulative relationships and exploitation at the expense of your mental health. We see the theme of the ‘’hysterical woman’’, locked away in asylums. Baths, emetics, neglect. Indifference (at the very best) and cruelty and abuse, all as a punishment for expressing ‘’an unnatural desire for independence.’’

The use of the dual narrative works well and the writing is flowing and lyrical. Emma and Jonathan’s chapters are tender and melancholic, Anne’s voice is raw and permeates the novella. However, the style of the dialogue wasn’t my cup of tea. It ‘’felt’’ too short and a bit unnatural. In my opinion, Anna’s story should have been explored more. I really hope we get a novel about her and Helena. 

All in all, this is an extremely interesting, literary treat but I was left wanting more. This is the (only) negative aspect of the Novella form.

‘’There is a figure at the water’s edge. At the rim of the lake, there is someone. There is that story from the Kalevala, of Aino who fled her fate – wedding an aged man – to come upon the maidens on the rock, to whom she swam. And the rock san down and she with it, and there she lived, forever, submerged in the waves, one of the watery maidens who flitted and danced and sang.’’

Many thanks to Reflex Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.