Published: April 1st 2015 by Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
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A rock chick.
An artist with attitude.
A girl with a past.
A party animal.
Four lives collide when one of the world's most famous paintings is stolen. It's a mystery that has the nation talking, but while Picasso's Weeping Woman might be absent from the walls of the National Gallery, in other parts of Melbourne the controversial painting's presence is being felt by Guy, Rafi, Luke and Penny for four very different reasons.
Life, love, art and one giant party intersect in this offbeat comedy about good intentions, unexpected consequences and the irresistible force of true love.
I can’t remember what I was expecting when I started this, but it certainly wasn’t this: a thoughtful, poignant look at love, life, and art that is sure to touch the hearts of its readers.
The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is, unsurprisingly, the story of four people whose lives become entangled in unexpected ways. It’s also the story of the theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the National Library in Melbourne. Or rather, a story of what might have happened in 1986 when the painting disappeared and was mysteriously returned two weeks later.
The Guy: hackey-sack champion, forger of grades and thrower of massive parties while his parents aren’t home. Guy Lethlean is the first character we meet and he immediately makes an impression as he explains how he got into the situation he’s in while jogging through the vividly described streets of Melbourne.
The Girl: responsible, smart, studious. Rafi Sartori had to grow up fast after the tragic death of her younger brother, and has never stepped a toe of out line. Now in Year 12, she lives in one of the apartments above her uncle’s bistro and sometimes babysits for her neighbour. Rafi was the most relatable character for me – she reminds me of myself when I was high school. She’s had a really hard life and harbours a secret.
The Artist: successful painter, maker of schemes, betrayer of those around him. Luke’s has made a name for himself in Australia’s art scene and people clamour to buy his works and see them on display. He has a great smile and could charm an Eskimo into buying ice. Luke was hard to like because he used everyone around him and then dropped them when they stopped being useful, but I admire how suave he is.
His Ex: fashionable, broken, kind-hearted. Penny is Luke’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son. She hopes Luke’s not really her ex though and dreams of them getting back together one day. She also lives next door to Rafi and her mother. Penny’s story is heart-breaking, but her determination to be a great mother to her son was great to witness. I also liked her easy relationship with Rafi because both of them need positive female interactions in their lives. Interestingly, Luke is made redeemable only through Penny’s eyes: it’s only because of her that we can see that he has glimmers of good in him.
The mastery in this story is the way these four lives are intertwined. Their lives brush, sometimes collide, break away only to turn around and touch again. It’s a struggle, in and of itself, to write four distinct characters, but to tell the same set of events from different angles and make sure the individual stories don’t blur is quite a skill.
Gabrielle Williams brings Melbourne in the 1980s to life admirably in this book. I thought the descriptions were gorgeous and gritty, just like the city, and it’s obvious that Williams loves Melbourne. I especially liked the touch of including letters to the editor from everyday people commenting on the famous theft, which provide a great snapshot into the events unfolding.
This isn’t just a book about an art theft in Melbourne. It’s about four very different lives who come together at a pivotal moment and are changed forever. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is a gorgeous book. You should read it!Blogging Outside the Box is a feature at Speculating on SpecFic, where books outside the SFF banner are reviewed. It is intended to highlight some of the non speculative fiction titles I am reading and share my thoughts with readers.