I bought this book a while ago on a bit of a whim and added it to my Classics Club list as a little motivation to get on and read it. I’ll admit, the cover appealed to me, but I also thought it might be a good one to read because I’m particularly interested in nineteenth-century Aestheticism, and I hoped that it might be a useful tangent. Sadly, it was not to be. Like The Red and the Black, I’ve abandoned this one.
Finlay has taken a conversational tone and is trying to present the book as a personal narrative, rather than a more traditional historical presentation. Unfortunately, I don’t find the voice very engaging. It reads like a diary, self-indulgent in parts, focused very much on her own journey when, with respect, the reader doesn’t have a great deal of investment in her. The actual product — a history of pigments, their trading and their use — is obscured by Finlay presenting herself and her travels as the product, a sort of paint-based Year in Provence. For me, it simply doesn’t work.
So, instead, I’m going to replace it on my Classics Club list with Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve. It was rather disputed when it was first published (in 2011. And yes, I bought it in hardback then. And yes, I haven’t read it yet! Why are you asking?). You can read some of the critical reviews in the Guardian and the LA Review of Books (and comment on that review and the MLA’s awarding the Lowell Prize to Greenblatt at In the Middle). I’m rather after an “entertaining but wrong-headed belletristic tale”, so undeterred, I shall read on and report back here when I’m done!