The Blue Bath
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 5/3/2016
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
Kat Lind, an American expatriate living in London with her entrepreneur husband and their young son, attends an opening at a prestigious Mayfair art gallery and is astonished to find her own face on the walls. The portraits are evidence of a long-ago love affair with the artist, Daniel Blake. Unbeknownst to her, he has continued to paint her ever since. Kat is seduced by her reflection on canvas and when Daniel appears in London, she finds herself drawn back into the sins and solace of a past that suddenly no longer seems so far away.
When the portraits catch the attention of the public, threatening to reveal not only her identity, but all that lies beyond the edges of the canvases, Kat comes face to face with the true price of their beauty and with all that she now could lose.
Moving between the glamour of the London art world and the sensuous days of a love affair in a dusty Paris studio, life and art bleed together as Daniel and Kat's lives spin out of control, leading to a conclusion that is anything but inevitable.
"An elegant debut. With keen sensitivity and insight, Mary Waters-Sayer explores the shifting landscape between love and betrayal; nostalgia and regret; the desire to keep secrets, and the longing to be seen." ---Jennifer duBois, Whiting Award-winning author of Cartwheel and A Partial History of Lost Causes.
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Best Cover!
Mary Waters-Sayer delivers a spellbinding debut- THE BLUE BATH, a woman caught between the present and the past-Paris, a love affair, an artist, a canvas, reflections of beauty and haunting darkness.
Told with breathtaking lyrical poetic prose, and vivid tones—as mesmerizing, and intimate as an artist with its canvas and delicate brushstrokes; glamorous seductive settings, and calming as the delicate soft blues of the stunning book cover (front and back), drawing you into this riveting in depth emotional escape—you will want to savor. Hypnotic" "Fall in love with words."
Katherine (Kat) Lind has a past. She is coming face-to-face with it, twenty years later. What will she do when meeting the man, once a starving unknown artist, now a success? Little does she know, she is the subject of his success, now on display for the world to see--colliding with her present social world.
Currently living in London, Kat is now approaching forty years of age. Those passionate and wanderlust days of the past are long gone. An American expatriate living in London with her entrepreneur husband, Jonathan and their young son, Will.
She had fallen in love with their house and their life. Jonathan, a highly successful businessman, travels often. They met in the business world. She is immersed in their life, until she hears a shocking name from the past, over the news which leaves her stunned . . . .
“Before this beautiful, haunting collection of work came to light, the name Daniel Blake was little known outside a small corner of the art world. That looks set to change as an exhibition of his works opens to the public this Saturday at London’s Penfield Gallery. Blake is also in the running to do a series of paintings for Sir Richard Hawthorne’s New Tate Restaurant, a commission widely regarded as among the most prestigious in contemporary art today. The artist is here in London for this, his first solo show.”
These words will soon come to change her life once again. She feels as if she is reliving her past. The artist was here in London. The man she had loved in Paris years ago. The struggling artist, sharing more than an affair. Choices were made. She left. Regrets? She never looked back. However, she did not disappear so easily, from the talented obsessive artist’s memory. He continued to paint her. He has never forgotten her.
At nineteen, she had been a photographer, an indulgent, solitary activity that suited her—allowing her to think about how she looked at the world, to play with light and space and time. The city of sand, stone, and water. Photography allowed her to isolate the smallest details, the intricate forms, the changing palette of light, the textures of the sand in the Tuileries. Of course, the man she met, back then made light of her photography. He was an artist.
Daniel Blake. Two strangers in Paris. She knew little about him. In time, they fell in love. A small studio. He came without shared experiences and without references. No second opinions, no background knowledge, and no expectations. He was hers alone. An easel, his canvases, the paintings, and her books. In this sacred place of ordinary moments around which the world turned, they had become the art. He had told her if she ever doubted his feelings for her, she should look at the paintings.
Her friend, Elizabeth warned her, that the relationship was going nowhere. Enjoy the fling. Why would she travel three thousand miles to Paris and spend her time locked up in a studio tucked under the eaves on the rue Garanciere? It was meant to be the program, travel, adventure. Her friend said she was just a pretty thing for him to put on canvas. She cautioned her not to throw away her scholarship and all the places they were to explore.
She was exploring in her own way. She even wrote her mother every week. Carefully crafted, composed during classes as her professors discussed the intricate, nuanced worlds of Baudelaire and Sarte. Her plans for travel had fallen away. Rome, Barcelona, Prague—were all abandoned. She gave them up for something that burned more brightly. The letters were filled with detail about her studies and about Paris. Artful renderings of a truth very nearly lived. Carefully skirting around the edges of him, so close.
It had been just the two of them for so long, she and her mother. Her father died before she was born, older than her mother. A wedding, followed by a whirlwind courtship of three months. His family had disapproved, cutting him off financially. Married just over a year, when he had been killed in a car accident. Two weeks later her mother had discovered she was pregnant. Now her mom was gone.
Presently, she is sitting with her friend Jorie, at a small French café, confessing of the storied love life, and her dalliance with the famous artist. She was nineteen. After marrying Jonathan, and then Will-- she knew she was Jonathan’s wife, a mother. A refection of someone else.
She is curious, she has to see him —it is all she can think of. She attends an art showing in Mayfair at the Penfield Gallery with her friend. Nude paintings of herself. Private moments. Panicked, she recognizes another painting—a smaller study of the bath.
A previous occupant of the studio had painted the inside of the bathtub a deep shade of blue. Later turning to a slight blue tint to the water when filled. The painting was discreet, as the water obscured most of her body. She met her own eyes—wide and wet—in the next canvas. On the other hand, with the aging and gravity of a middle aged woman, she was drawn by her reflection on canvas and caught up with emotion and passion of what once was.
“The painting in front of her was so close that she could reach out and touch it. Trace the lines of the body. There was something about it that seemed so real. Much more real than the crowded gallery that surrounded her now. It seemed that if she stood and looked long enough, the girl’s hand would move through the length of her hair, finders disappearing among the soft strands. That the hint of smile in her eyes would spread slowly, inevitably to the rest of her face. Kat felt a tightening in her chest. An ache.”
Each painting triggered a barrage of memories. She remembered each painting, how she felt when he was painting her. Safe, understood. It was almost an abdication of herself. As if he held her and she was free to wander. Although she had not strayed far from the studio that summer.
He was now in her world in London. The thought gripped her. Just how close was the resemblance between her and the girl in the paintings? How easy would it be to link her face to the face in the portrait? She was flooded with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and regret for a delicate and vanished time.
For years she had lived an unsettled life. She had learned to enjoy it. The uncertainty had a certain charm. But since buying the house, she had believed that had changed. The size, financial commitment, scope of the renovation---they were putting down roots. Was that what she wanted?
Is a memory far better than the real thing?
As she reads of Daniel’s first major exhibition, from New York’s finest collectors and elite, over the span of twenty years, Blake had created a series of works that served as an intensive study of one unidentified model. A rare view of the stylistic and emotional evolution of the artist. The artist was enamored with the redhead.
A mystery, the anomaly has captured the imagination of the art world as to if the model is real or simply a product of the artist’s imagination. With two distinct parts, an emotional intensity of subtle textures of flesh and plaster and cloth—the delicate, varied brushstrokes, moments stolen out of time.
Later works, the paintings themselves are the moments¬attempts to recall time past. A sharp departure from the earlier portraits. He moves closer, breaking down the highly detailed elements. The irony—the closer Blake moves to the girl, the more distant she becomes. The extraordinary tenderness of the earlier work, is missing replaced with an almost scientific approach.
What starts as an exploration of the whole person becomes an obsessive exhumation of pieces of the whole. Change in technique and tools. The dead spaces between them seem almost alive. The artist seems to be painting absence itself. Later works seem to be a desperate attempt to magnify their memory –to fix them in time. Earlier works which were effortless, now with painstaking discipline. Compulsive—turning away from truth to beauty. To be examined closely. A slower pace. A desperate attempt to animate his subject—to make her come alive in time. A yearning to hold on. Haunting. A need to fit the pieces together.
The true masterpiece is in the story. One subject of the course of so many years. The girl, who is she and what is she to the artist? The art world is intrigued. The author nor his agent comments in reference to the subject. Some hope she is not real, so he can invent another. If she is real, he will have to wait for "lightning to strike again." Something that may or may not happen. Some speculate it has to be a real subject due to the intricate detail. Is she dead?
Each had its own world. Of color, and line and style. Of age and time and reason. Each with its own rules, its own borders, its own palette. Her story drew them together. United them and changed the rules of each of their worlds, blurring the boundaries that separated them. Can she go back to Paris? Dangerous territory.
The memories. She had not been back except with one other visit with her husband. Her history with Daniel had been a lie of omission. She had never told anyone about Daniel. He remained hers alone. Sacred and apart. Until now. Secrets of the past.
Will history repeat itself? Can she choose from two different lives, two different men, a child? Daniel now has an agent, Martin. Exposure to the right (or wrong) people. Paintings everywhere. He had found his passion. The Blue Bath—the first one he sold.
Lightning is about to strike twice. Kat knows she has to see him. When she does, it could prove detrimental to both Daniel, the artist, and Kat, the model. What happens when a woman ages? The memory of the young no longer exists. Harmful for both parties—combined with the greed and betrayal which surround the commercialization of something beautiful. Devastating consequences.
Urgent and mournful. Youth and aging. Purity and infidelity. Truth and lies. Secrets. Light and Darkness. With many metaphors and parallels –from the old house, inside the walls, to the relation of youth, beauty, love, aging, and precious time lost. So many elegant phrases, quotes, I found myself booking many pages. This is a book you will want to buy to keep on your shelf in hard copy.
Captivating! From a talented storyteller (her experience and passion is reflected throughout the pages, as the settings and characters come to life). Full of emotion, desire, romance, mystery, suspense, and intrigue. A book you want to savor as you would a delicate flower, a fine wine, decadent sweet Parisian croissants--an emotional tumultuous young love affair.
As another author mentioned to me recently, every book is written for a certain reader. When I see a number of low reviews and high ones, a perfect example of the wrong reader for the book. I took extra time with this review, quoting many of the book's passages, to hopefully convey to other readers this hidden artistic gem.
Thought-provoking: A book, not to be rushed. One to linger, like a soothing warm bath. This book is clearly meant for a target audience in order to appreciate fully its intensity. Fans of art, culture, international travel, contemporary, domestic suspense, love, and literary fiction will enjoy the beautifully written debut. One you will want to re-read.
Note from the Author: "To me The Blue Bath is a reminder to pay attention to the small moments of beauty in my daily life. Not only for what they are, but for all that they might become." Enjoyed reading the inspiration behind the book.
Throughout the novel, I was strongly reminded of the movie (2002) Unfaithful (Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Olivier Martinez). Even though the setting in the movie is New York, the mid-life married couple and son were similar in some ways. Happily married, and an affair with a Persian younger guy- a book collector/seller, in a small studio, with deadly consequences. I recall loving the movie, and the characters reminded me a lot of the ones in the book. The ending of the book and movie- both enigmatic. So, I pretended Gere, Lane, and Martinez – the cast for Kat, Jonathan, and Daniel. A delightful unexpected pleasure!
Highly Recommend. Can’t wait to see what is next from this talented new author!
About the Author
Mary is originally from New York. She has a B.A. in Literature and Rhetoric from Binghamton University and later studied writing at Stanford University’s Continuing Education program. As expected of all good English majors, she began her career in publishing before moving to San Francisco where she worked in investor and public relations. She spent twelve years as an expatriate in London, working in investor and corporate communications and traveling extensively.She currently lives outside of Boston with her family. The Blue Bath is her first novel.