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Read a sensitive artist’s portrait

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Whether or not you are familiar with the work of Clarice Beckett, this sensitive novel about that talented young painter will captivate. A passionate artist who lived her life as a spinster in her parents’ home, this inspiring woman defied accepted ideas of what and how women should paint, and went on to create her unique, mysterious and haunting landscapes.

Kristel Thornell’s Night Street explores the beginning of Beckett’s career and her tutelage under Max Meldrum, the one person who most influenced her work. It also delves into Beckett’s relationships with her constantly ill parents, and her affairs with two married men.

But the clearest portrait that emerges of Beckett is that of a strong woman, happiest when alone, and absorbed in her art, always completely confident in her artistic choices. Thornell has done a wonderful job of evoking the Melbourne of Beckett’s time, with the reader swept along as Beckett explores bush and beach, trying to find the perfect painting spot, preferring to paint in the open air.

Joint winner of the 2009 Vogel prize, Night Street is a beautifully paced read, and as atmospheric as a Clarice Beckett landscape.

* Kabita Dhara is a former bookseller and the publisher of new imprint Brass Monkey Books. This review first appeared in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

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