Book Review: In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark
Inspired by real events but told by fictional characters Clare Clark’s latest novel, In the Full Light of the Sun, puts Weimar Berlin and a van Gogh art scandal in the frame.
In the Full Light of the Sun follows the fortunes of three Berliners caught up in a devastating scandal of 1930s’ Germany. It tells the story of Emmeline, a wayward, young art student; Julius, an anxious, middle-aged art expert; and a mysterious art dealer named Rachmann who are at the heart of Weimar Berlin at its hedonistic, politically turbulent apogee and are whipped up into excitement over the surprising discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
In the Full Light of the Sun is split into three sections, each with its own year: the first follows Julius, art expert, biographer and critic, in a position to influence careers and fortunes, his own included, in 1923; the second takes up Emmeline’s hedonistic life as an artist and young woman in search of inspiration, work and love, four years later in 1927; and finally in 1933, there’s the diary of a Jewish lawyer involved in the resulting court case. Still struggling to cope with a tragic personal loss, his world is fast becoming a smaller and scarier place, but he lives in hope of someone stepping in to call a halt on it.
The novel depicts Berlin at the height of a dynamic period of creativity, apparent freedom and innovation. But such heady times don’t guarantee clarity of vision and Clare Clark shows here how greatly people can be blinded by the glare when things burn so brightly, often leaving them deceived.
A man lavishes a painting he owns with more love and attention than he affords his wife and child yet will lose all three. That same man finds the passionate younger man he used to be or a surrogate son in a rising star and fails to sense that it heralds his own decline. A woman only truly sees the world when sketching but is otherwise blind to reality until it’s forced upon her. Two women will find themselves falsely accused. Two men help their respective brothers in their personal battles but where one sacrifices his own freedom, the other finds a way to secure his.
Clare Clark’s novel is a fascinating take on a time and an art scandal that both capture the imagination. As the story progresses and more is revealed through each of its three sections, it feels as though you are watching the layers on a canvas being stripped away to reveal the truth of the original and its artist, in fact, until “you’ve been shocked by what has been found under frames and stretchers.”
In the Full Light of the Sun is a novel of contrasts: those between appearance and illusion, charm and deception, success and ruin, the struggle of an artist’s search for truth and beauty with our inability to see the reality and ugliness of what’s happening right in front of us, and, more particularly, how we reconcile what we’re seeing with what we choose to see. It both resonates with the times we live in and is a stunning historical novel.
In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark is published by Virago, an imprint of Little, Brown. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback You can buy it from Amazon UK or from Hive where purchases support your local independent bookshop. Clare Clark is the author of five previous highly acclaimed historical novels. For more on Clare Clark and her writing, check out her Author Website, or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review.
The #FullLightoftheSun blog tour runs until Tuesday. Here are the participating blogs: