cover image Painting Time

Painting Time

Maylis de Kerangal, trans from the French by Jessica Moore. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-21192-9

De Kerangal (The Cook) tells an insightful story of a young woman’s exploration of her relationship to art. Paula Karst is a student at the Institut de Peinture in Brussels, where she determines to master the exacting processes of wood graining, marbleizing, and tortoiseshell. Fully immersed in her work, Paula becomes detached from life but eventually bonds with two classmates, including her attractive roommate, Jonas. Later, she builds a career working as a scenic painter on film sets throughout Europe, and keeps in touch with Jonas on the internet. Rather than plot, the book is driven by an extended contemplation of the creative process and what it means to be human. As Paula works on a replica of the prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings, Jonas and Paula reunite. Jonas imagines a world without humans, while Paula feels a connection through her art with the Cro-Magnons who made the original cave paintings. What begins as Paula’s personal story expands by the end to a brilliant philosophical study on the origins of human art, capped with a moving epiphanic moment. This perfectly captures a craftsperson’s singular passion. (Apr.)