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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan is a novel about an artist, family, and secrets

Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan by Deborah Reed

Genre: General Fiction

Publish date October 2020, 288 pages

When I first saw the title and read the blurb to learn it's a story about an artist, the image that came to mind is of a painting of a misty dawn with a violet-colored swan on a pond. But, no. Pale Morning Light is actually the title of the last painting by the renowned artist (lead character) Violet Swan. Still can't get that image out of my head though!

I'm an artist and so the jacket copy caught my attention because it described a story about a well known abstract artist and her life. I usually enjoy books that focus on art in some way so I requested this ARC.

"There was nothing to prepare her for the magnificence she might find beyond a clutch of trees, or the downward side of a cliff, or when she stopped to rest in the shade and spotted a geode with cavities of purple or white crystals. She would come to understand it was the same with art, the way beauty arrived without warning, arresting her in place."


This was a little bit about art, but more about familial relationships and looking back on a life and the paths taken. The part that was "art" and that I absolutely LOVED was the occasional references to color and light and how that permeated so much of her memories, her life....just her awareness of the shades and nuances of color was amazing. Almost every time I had to reread those particular lines because they were so captivating.

One tiny example: " their kitchen, with its grasshopper-green tiles and Dutch-orange bread box, her mother's sheer yellow hem shifting with the swish of her hips. The composition of this life, its scale, shapes, and colors, gave way to interpretations that Violet didn't always understand."

The family drama in this story is played out through a couple generations and through Violet's memories. In her 90s, Violet lives in the same house she found as a young married woman. Her home and studio are upstairs while her son and his wife live on the main floor. There are all sorts of tensions in those dynamics.

We learn some pretty dramatic long-held secrets and then see what effect those secrets have when they come to light. Her son and wife and Violet's grown grandson all learn much about this woman who lived with them but kept her history very private. The family dynamics are interesting, believable, slightly dysfunctional (so many secrets!!), but ultimately entertaining and very readable.

"Violet glanced at the shelves of books [in a bookstore], feeling the rush of stories, as if surrounded by a roomful of people, and every kind of person Violet ever was, or might have been, had things gone differently in any direction."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good family history-type story, a multi-generational story, or someone who enjoys beautiful writing about colors and light and the strength of art. It would lend itself well to a book club read and discussion.

Reading Challenge: #bookworm20 #60: free choice, any book

Thanks to #NetGalley and #Houghton #Mariner Books for the advance copy. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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