Talking Location With author Olja Knežević – MONTENEGRO
Book set in Aberdeen (and the art world)
30th November 2013
The Studio Game by Peter Burnett: book set in Aberdeen
“We admired the anxiety that was special to city life in Aberdeen”….
Two things drew us to this novel. First the cover, and second, that it was clearly advertised as being set in Aberdeen.
The more we research titles for the TripFiction website, the more my interest grows in the role that book covers play: they are a way for an author to advertise content, to catch the potential reader’s eye and to make a statement. On a bookshelf in a bookstore (as well as on the internet) they have to gain the reader’s attention within a microsecond, a really challenging feat to achieve in the current market which is burgeoning with books – both from the big and not so big publishing houses, and from those who self publish. The book cover is increasingly going to become a vital tool to getting the book out to the reader (this isn’t rocket science, is it?).
The cover of The Studio Game is simple and colourful and initially looks like a collection of Smarties – and who doesn’t like to be taken back to fond memories of childhood? On closer inspection, however, these dots are swirls of oil paint, onto which the letters of the title and author are embedded. Does this cover do its job? Only in part. It’s eye-catching, yes. But the title and the author actually get totally lost! As I came to write this review, I found myself spelling out the title, character by character, together with the author’s name, which made me feel like a bit of an idiot – THEST UDIOG AMEPE TERBU….. I struggled to remember what it was I was reading and by whom it was written (thus, clearly a job not well done). This cover does not enable you to skim read and absorb the title in one go (an essential point of a book cover), and thus the vital detail of title and author has got thoroughly lost.
Aberdeen certainly is the setting for this work, and there are many places that will remind the reader of locale. However, it is not overly evocative of the city compared with other books we feature on our site.
And what of the storyline? Liska and Guy are painting partners, who channel their passion into the creation of art – or not. Liska is on a mission to create 58 paintings as her legacy, and she is of the view that art is only truly art once the artist is dead. So she duly jumps from a ferry on the way to the Shetland Islands but pops up frequently in Guy’s mind’s eye, looking much like Ophelia, but disintegrating further with each appearance. Guy, in theory, was due to jump with her, but a restraining hand (or was it is his fear or his determination to carry out a mission?) pulled him back at the critical moment, and he survived their pact. This is not a spoiler, because the novel is essentially about the place and function of art after death.
Guy is determined to carry out Liska’s wishes and destroy all her painintgs – but with her death each picture now has increasing value, and it is the battle between commercial potential and artistic integrity that starts to take centre stage. Guy is clearly hell bent on creating ‘chaos out of order’.
Relevant references to ‘famous’ works of art are interwoven into the prose. This notion of ‘millionaire friendly wallpaper’ (as Simon Schama calls it) is, in part, the discourse that snakes through the book. When does art become to be art? When it is created, when it is sold, when the artist is dead? Who are the agents who set themselves up to proclaim what is art and what is not? Guy carries out a brief experiment with a dog turd (turds are apparently prolific in Aberdeen), he places a knife and fork on either side and sprinkles it with coloured sugar cake decorations, and puts to the top right a wine glass filled with yellow urine. In the hands of Guy Poynting, this is a joke. But in the hands of Warhol it would be art, and very valuable art it would be too!
Make of this book what you will. It is very readable, and an interesting choice from independent publishers Fledgling Press, founded in 2000, whose mission it is ‘to make new authors available to readers quickly and effectively’. They have a great little logo, which sadly with the advent of Twitter, has got overtaken – although the publishing house existed long before the advent of the social media site (so remember, the little logo on the bottom right of the cover has nothing to do with Twitter!).
Tina for the TripFiction Team