Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 3, 2014

Life Drawing, a novel (2014), by Robin Black

There are often conversations going on in a marriage.  The one that you’re having and the one that you’re not.  Sometimes you don’t even know when that second silent one has begun.  (p.36)

So true, isn’t it?  For all kinds of reasons, there are times when we keep our thoughts to ourselves.  Sometimes, in a long relationship of any kind, those thoughts are – for good or for ill – transparent; and at other times those thoughts are deeply private.  In Robin Black’s debut novel, the wisdom of these silences is tested in many ways.

Augusta (‘Gus’) and Owen Edelman are tree-changers of a sort:  they have used an unexpected inheritance to move from Philadelphia to the countryside to enjoy a life of solitude that enables them to pursue their creative endeavours.  She’s a moderately successful painter, and he’s a moderately successful writer.  But whereas she quickly finds inspiration in some old WW1 newspaper obituaries, he’s suffering from writer’s block, and neither of them can talk about this.  She fears his resentment, fuelled by past betrayals: she misses sharing the excitement about a project going well.

Since the story is narrated by Gus, the reader must make up her own mind about the reliability of the narrative.  Gus tells us what she thinks, and she interprets Owen’s thoughts for us too.  She thinks she knows him really well.  But how much self-awareness does she herself have?  Her reactions to a couple of unexpected events come as a surprise –  she’s not as self-contained as she thinks she is.  So is her silence a way of nurturing Owen through a difficult period?  Or is it because she has learned to suppress her feelings since childhood?  There have been many losses in her life: her mother, her sister, the prospect of having children, her father drifting into dementia.  Silence surrounds all these losses and all of them haunt the marriage.

Is Owen’s creative energy blocked, as Gus thinks it is, by past infidelity?  Is the infidelity all over as promised?  When a beautiful neighbour arrives next door, it’s the catalyst for more truth-telling than the relationship can bear.  Gus – who seems never to have had a friend – confides in Alison, while Owen is suspicious and resentful about their intimacy.  That is, until, he finds succour from another interloper.  Gus learns the hard way that while she is struggling with her tired, battle-weary, tattered and stitched-together love she has failed to notice the impact of the intrusions:

A painter looks.  That’s what she does.  But she doesn’t always look in the right direction. (p.49)

Life Drawing, a novel is a gentle, reflective novel with an ending that’s a reminder of the vulnerability of human relationships.  The author, Robin Black, has dissected a marriage with ruthless honesty.  But Black also demolishes the idea of a safe rural haven.  It’s a very interesting book.

Author: Robin Black
Title: Life Drawing, a novel
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2014
ISBN: 9781925106022
Source: Review copy courtesy of Scribe.


Fishpond: Life Drawing

Or direct from Scribe.


  1. As someone who is thinking very seriously of moving to Tasmania with her husband to have more time for creative pursuits, I think I had better read this.


    • Ah, that’s something I would love to do too. I seriously love Tasmania!


    • And read those weather reports too! Beautiful, pretty…but oh, so cold.


      • I don’t mind a bit of cold weather, there are more than enough compensations in Tassie!


  2. […] Life Drawing by Robin Black (see my review) […]


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