An artist’s retreat with a difference in Sara Baume’s A Line Made By Walking becomes a beautiful meditation on our own fragility and how art and nature can both anchor and heal us.
Struggling to cope with urban life – and with life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to the rural bungalow on ‘turbine hill’ that has been vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by nature, that she hopes to regain her footing in art and life. She spends her days pretending to read, half-listening to the radio, failing to muster the energy needed to leave the safety of her haven. Her family come and go, until they don’t and she is left alone to contemplate the path that led her here, and the smell of the carpet that started it all.
Finding little comfort in human interaction, Frankie turns her camera lens on the natural world and its reassuring cycle of life and death. What emerges is a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of wilderness, art and individual experience, and a powerful exploration of human frailty.
Frankie’s voice is strong even when she is at her weakest. As her character shuts out most other people, the book relies on her perspective carrying it and it does this very successfully. Even when her situation frustrated me, I appreciated how self-aware she was being. I empathised with her need for retreat – I think most of us have felt the need for space or escape, even if we haven’t reached the crisis point which Frankie has. And it’s interesting to see her reconnect with mementoes and memories both in her grandmother’s house and from a trip to the seaside.
Refreshingly honest about her daily progress, it’s interesting to watch as Frankie pares back her life, (mostly) rejecting others’ suggestions and traditional treatment, and instead tries to find her own way of healing. Artist Frankie does this by playing a fascinating word association game with artworks and by setting herself a photography challenge, forcing her outdoors.
Just as Frankie examines her life and (her) art with a critical eye, Sara Baume compels the reader to watch Frankie first collapse then make tentative steps towards recovery. Profound in its portrayal of art, nature and the human mind, A Line Made by Walking is at times funny, cutting, flippant, poignant and acutely observed but never bleak or depressing, as it follows Frankie’s very personal path to reconnect with what gives her life meaning, so that she’ll trust herself to try life in the world outside the bungalow once more. Highly recommended.
A Line Made by Walking is Sara Baume‘s second novel and is published by William Heinemann. It is available as an ebook and in hardback. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Lovereading and Waterstones.