Struggling to cope with urban life – and life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to her family’s rural house on “turbine hill,” vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by countryside and wild creatures, that she can finally grapple with the chain of events that led her here-her shaky mental health, her difficult time in art school-and maybe, just maybe, regain her footing in art and life.
A Line Made by Walking is a frustrating book for me because as I’m reading I can tell the writing is amazing. I mean, right here on page five is a passage that speaks to me and my life with an image I never would have dreamed up:
Why must I test myself? Because no one else will, not any more. Now that I am no longer a student of any kind, I must take responsibility for the furniture inside my head. I must slide new drawers into chests and attach new rollers to armchairs. I must maintain the old highboys and sideboards and whatnots. Polish, patch, dust, buff. And, from scratch, I must build new frames and appendages; I must fill the drawers and roll along.
I highlighted pages’ worth of passages even more wonderful than this. When I’m in the book it’s beautiful, even a little haunting. But after putting the book down it took a lot of effort to bring myself back to the page, namely because there is no plot to speak of.
Now, this is a very individual thing. It’s one of the reasons I dive into romance and urban fantasy but have to pick my way around the edges of Booker longlists – more often than not nothing happens! I once heard literary fiction cheekily defined as ‘white people sitting around talking’. That isn’t true for the entire genre, of course, but it’s the part I like the least, and the part this book falls into.
If literature (with a capital L or in scare quotes, your pick) is your thing A Line Made by Walking is the book for you. I admire the writing and the depiction of mental illness in an up close and personal way. Baume’s descriptions of performance art sent me scurrying to the internet and YouTube to see pieces for myself.
Works about Time, I test myself: Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010. A 24-hour film, a collage of extracts from several thousand other films, the complete history of cinema. Each extract represents a minute of the day. Mostly, though not exclusively, by means of a clock face. Wherever the film is screened, it is played in sync with actual time. But I have never seen it for real. Right the way through from beginning to end. I don’t imagine many people have. Nevertheless, I love this piece. I love the idea. I love that an idea can be so powerful it doesn’t matter whether I’ve seen the artwork for real or not.
I was there for each moment of the book but the lack of direction and nothingness of the plot kept me from engaging. A five star read for some people, but a three star read for me.