Astonishing Splashes of Colour [NOOK Book]

Overview

Booker finalist Astonishing Splashes of Colour takes its title from J. M. Barrie's description of Peter Pan's Neverland. It follows the life of Kitty, a woman who, in a sense, has never grown up. She lives an improvised life reviewing children's books, visiting her husband who lives in the apartment next door, and fostering a growing obsession to replace her lost child. Kitty's strong, appealing personality drives this novel, as she relates her story in a jumbled state of consciousness. Her moods swing ...
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Astonishing Splashes of Colour

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Overview

Booker finalist Astonishing Splashes of Colour takes its title from J. M. Barrie's description of Peter Pan's Neverland. It follows the life of Kitty, a woman who, in a sense, has never grown up. She lives an improvised life reviewing children's books, visiting her husband who lives in the apartment next door, and fostering a growing obsession to replace her lost child. Kitty's strong, appealing personality drives this novel, as she relates her story in a jumbled state of consciousness. Her moods swing dramatically from high to low and are illuminated by an unusual ability to interpret people and emotions through colour. Kitty struggles to uncover the secrets of her childhood from her father and brothers, but their revelations threaten to overwhelm her tenuous hold on reality, leaving the reader feeling both sympathetic and horrified with her impetuous journey into madness. Skillful, unsentimental, fresh, and original, this is a sparkling debut by a writer of exceptional talent.

Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

Taylor Antrim
There's no happy ending in Astonishing Splashes of Colour, Clare Morrall's propulsive and compelling Booker-Prize-nominated novel. That's not a spoiler; you can smell calamity brewing on the first page.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Like Booker-winner Monica Ali, British newcomer and Booker finalist Morrall creates an alienated yet immensely appealing heroine. But unlike Ali's protagonist, Kitty Wellington is at home in Britain's culture; it's her spectacularly dysfunctional family and a personal tragedy that bring her grief. Dangerously unstable after a miscarriage and her resulting inability to conceive again, Kitty sees other people and her environment in auras of color. A device brilliantly effective at times, this serves to establish Kitty's febrile, fantastical imagination. For three years, Kitty has lived in a flat next door to her loving, ineffectual husband, whose own problems (a limp; an obsession with order; a fear of unfamiliar places) render him similarly incapable of dealing with the world. But Morrall gradually reveals the real cause of Kitty's anguish: her lack of identity. Brought up helter-skelter by her irascible, eccentric artist father and four older brothers, Kitty has no memory of her mother, who died when she was three. Even in her most depressed moments, however, Kitty has wit and intelligence, even as her childlike impulsiveness and failure to foresee the consequences of her acts lead her to initiate a double kidnapping. Morrall artfully reveals the true story of Kitty's family in a suspenseful plot that unfolds like layers of an onion, meanwhile providing a convincing portrait of a woman striving for emotional survival. Agent, Laura Longrigg. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In Morrall's debut novel, the first-person narrator, Katherine Wellington, is at the edge of sanity because of a miscarriage three years ago and the presumed death of her mother when she was three. As Katherine searches for a surrogate child and information about her mother, each episode, ironically, increases her sense of loss. When the truth about Katheroziine's mother is revealed, Morrall has prepared readers for it so well that we are not surprised. Although the situation sounds like a soap opera, Morrall's sympathetic and complex narrator and her artist father and five brothers avoid sentimentality. The title describes Peter Pan's Neverland, and the theme of people lost in childhood and unable to grow up is developed through the narrator, her husband, and a runaway girl she takes up with. Allusions to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland contribute to the theme. This finely constructed novel, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize, should please readers of both popular and literary fiction. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.]-Elaine Bender, El Camino Coll., Torrance, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Sunday Times (London)
“Absorbing and sure-footed first novel...extremely well written and cimpulsively readable...a genuinely solid and satisfying work of fiction.”
Buffalo News
“Wellington, a memorable heroine, narrates “Astonishing Splashes of Color,” a terrific debut novel by British writer Clare Morrall.”
New York Times Book Review
“...propulsive and compelling...a gripping [story].”
Boston Globe
“Beautifully subtle. . . . It draws the reader in page after page.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“A core of truth, suffused with a golden glow, becoming more pleasurable the more [it] wander[s].”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Astonishing Splashes of Colours is a brave and startling book, tinted, shaded and stained like life itself.”
Independent (UK)
“An inprobably uplifting novel about depression and its sources.”
Bookseller (London)
“A heart-breaking and accomplished debut.”
The Guardian (UK)
“A moving novel about loss, and particularly lost children”
Daily Mail (London)
“An extremely good first novel: deceptively simple, subtly observed, with a plot that drags you forward like a strong current.”
John Carey
"An extraordinary, gripping novel written with no sentimentality. A wonderful piece of writing"
The Guardian(UK)
"A moving novel about loss, and particularly lost children"
Laurie Fox
“Equally dangerous and endearing, ASTONISHING SPLASHES OF COLOUR is a poignant tour through the many moods of loss.”
Jacquelyn Mitchard
“Astonishing Splashes of Color commands us from the first page...”
Professor John Carey
“An extraordinary, gripping novel written with no sentimentality. A wonderful piece of writing”
From the Publisher
“A heartbreaking and accomplished debut.”
The Bookseller (starred review)

“Absorbing and sure-footed.…. Extremely well written and compulsively readable.… Morrall has written a genuinely solid and satisfying work of fiction, skilfully plotted and fielding a cast of fully realised and individualised characters. More please.”
Sunday Times (U.K.)

“An extremely good first novel: deceptively simple, subtly observed, with a plot that drags you forward like a strong current.”
Daily Mail (U.K.)

“A moving novel about loss, and particularly lost children.”
The Guardian (U.K.)

“We are drawn by Kitty into her unique world as she strives for a sense of self, of belonging.… I defy anyone to read this book slowly. Or to read it once and then just forget it.”
–newBOOKS.mag

“An intense portrait of a woman who cannot remember her own mother and will never be a mother herself.… A real page-turner.”
Big Issue (U.K.)

“An extraordinary, gripping novel written with no sentimentality. A wonderful piece of writing – it is astonishing that she has never been published before.”
–Professor John Carey, Chair of the Man Booker Prize

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062035172
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/7/2010
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 316,290
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Clare Morrall's first novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. She is a music teacher with two grown children. She lives in Birmingham, England.

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Table of Contents

1 The flash of my skirt 1
2 The lost boys 37
3 A good silence 88
4 Feeding the rhododendrons 103
5 Outer circle 146
6 Locks 177
7 A seriously happy world 220
8 Neverland 250
9 On top of the world 279
10 That pinprick of time 302
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First Chapter

Astonishing Splashes of Colour

Chapter One

The Flash of My Skirt

At 3:15 every weekday afternoon, I become anonymous in a crowd of parents and child-minders congregating outside the school gates. To me, waiting for children to come out of school is a quintessential act of motherhood. I see the mums -- and the occasional dads -- as yellow people. Yellow as the sun, a daffodil, the submarine. But why do we teach children to paint the sun yellow? It's a deception. The sun is white-hot, brilliant, impossible to see with the naked eye, so why do we confuse brightness with yellow?

The people outside the school gates are yellow because of their optimism. There's a picture in my mind of morning in a kitchen, the sun shining past yellow gingham curtains on to a wooden table, where the children sit and eat breakfast. Their arms are firm and round, their hair still tangled from sleep. They eat Coco Pops, drink milk and ask for chocolate biscuits in their lunchboxes. It's the morning of their lives, and their mums are reliving that morning with them.

After six weeks of waiting, I'm beginning to recognize individuals, to separate them from the all-embracing yellow mass. They smile with recognition when I arrive now and nearly include me in their conversations. I don't say anything, but I like to listen.

A few days ago, I was later than usual and only managed to reach the school gates as the children were already coming out. I dashed in, nearly fell over someone's pushchair, and collided with another girl. I've seen her before: an au pair, who picks up a boy and a girl.

"Sorry," I said, several times, to everyone.

The girl straightened up and smiled. "Is all right," she said.

I smiled back.

"I am Hélène," she said awkwardly. "What is your name?"

"Kitty," I said eventually, because I couldn't think of a suitable alternative.

Now when we meet, we speak to each other.

" 'ello, Kitty," she says.

"Hello, Hélène," I say.

"Is a lovely day."

"Yes, it's very warm."

"I forgot to put washing out."

"Oh dear."

Our conversations are distinctly limited -- short sentences with one subject, one verb. Nothing sensational, nothing important. I like the pointlessness of it all. The feeling that you are skimming the surface only, whizzing along on water skis, not thinking about what might happen if you take a wrong turning away from the boat. I like this simple belief, the sense of going on indefinitely, without ever falling off.

"Where do you come from?" I ask Hélène one day. I'm no good with accents.

"France."

"Oh," I say, "France." I have only been to France once, when I was sixteen, on a school trip. I was sick both ways on the ferry, once on some steps, so everybody who came down afterwards slipped on it. I felt responsible, but there was nothing I could do to stop people using the stairs.

Another mother is standing close to us with a toddler in a pushchair. The boy is wearing a yellow and black striped hat with a pompom on it, and his little fat cheeks are a brilliant red. He is holding a packet of Wotsits and trying to cram them into his mouth as quickly as possible. His head bobs up and down, so that he looks like a bumble bee about to take off.

"Jeremy, darling," says his mother, "finish eating one before starting on the next." He contemplates her instructions for five seconds and then continues to stuff them in at the same rate as before.

She turns to Hélène. "What part of France?"

Hélène looks pleased to be asked. "Brittany."

James would know it. He used to go to France every summer. Holidays with his parents.

One of Hélène's children comes out of school, wearing an unzipped red anorak and a rucksack on his back in the shape of a very green alligator. The alligator's scaly feet reach round him from the back and its grinning row of teeth open and shut from behind as he walks.

" 'ello, Toby," says Hélène.

"Have we got Smarties today?" he demands in a clear, firm tone. He talks to Hélène with a slight arrogance.

Hélène produces a packet of chocolate buttons.

"But I don't like them. I only like Smarties."

"Good," she says and puts the buttons back in her bag.

He hesitates. "OK then," he says with a sigh, wandering off to chat to his friends with the buttons in his pocket. His straight blond hair flops over his eyes. If he were mine, I'd have taken him to a barber ages ago.

Hélène turns to me. "We walk home together? You know my way?"

"No. I live in the opposite direction to you."

"Then you come with me to park for a little while? Children play on swings?"

She is obviously lonely. It must be so hard to come to Birmingham from the French countryside. How does she understand the accent, or find out the bus fares and have the right change ready?

"I have to get back," I say. "My husband will be expecting me."

She smiles and pretends not to mind. I watch her walk miserably away with her two children and wish I could help her, although I know I can't. She chose the wrong person. The yellow is changing. I can feel it becoming overripe -- the sharp smell of dying daffodils, the sting and taste of vomit.

When I walk home, I remember being met from school by my brothers, twenty-five years ago. It was never my father -- too busy, too many socks to wash, too many shirts to iron. I never knew which brother it would be. Adrian, Jake and Martin, the twins, or Paul. I was always so pleased to see them. Paul, the youngest, was ten years older than me, and it made me feel special to be met by a teenage brother, a nearly-man. None of them looked alike, but my memory produces a composite brother ...

Astonishing Splashes of Colour. Copyright © by Clare Morrall. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

About the book

Astonishing Splashes of Color takes its title from J.M. Barrie's description of Peter Pan's Neverland. It follows the life of Kitty, a woman who, in a sense, has never grown up. The loss of her mother in early childhood, and her own miscarriage have impaired her ability to act rationally and develop a secure sense of self. She lives an improvised life reviewing children's books, visiting her husband who lives in the apartment next door, and fostering a growing obsession to replace her lost child.

Kitty's strong, appealing personality drives this novel, as she relates her story in a jumbled state of consciousness. Her moods swing dramatically from high to low, and are illuminated by an unusual ability to interpret people and emotions through colour. Kitty struggles to uncover the secrets of her childhood from her father and brothers, but their revelations threaten to overwhelm her tenuous hold on reality.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Is this exclusively a woman's book, or are the themes sufficiently universal to appeal to men?

  2. What does the book tell us about family life? Is Kitty's perception of her family correct -- the root snipped off below the ground -- or is there something more fundamental that she has missed?

  3. What does the book tell us about mothers? Does anyone in Kitty's family survive unscathed by the lack of a mother?

  4. The original title for the book was "Lost Boys." How appropriate would this have been?

About the author

Astonishing Splashes of Colour is Clare Morrall's first novel. This searing, intimate, and compelling debut novel came from behind in the publishing race for The Man Booker prize, and further surprised the publishing masses by going as far as being shortlisted. She is a music teacher with two grown children, and lives in Birmingham, England.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 4, 2012

    disapointed

    Not much of a novel, not much of a memoir. Too much discussion of a rare mental illness.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2010

    A sad, quirky, wonderful story

    This is the story of Kitty, who, three years after losing a child before he is born and faced with the reality that she can never carry another child, is slowly losing her grip on sanity. She waits daily outside an elementary school pretending to be a mother who is picking up her young son. On and off she shops for diapers and baby's clothing, storing them secretly in the back of her closet. She sees her sense of worth and purpose only in terms of whether or not she is a mother. Meanwhile, she is filled with confusion about her own mother, who she has grown up believing died when she was only three. Her father and brothers will not talk about her. Even though her brothers are all older than her, their memories of her are sketchy at best. A startling discovery, however, at an after-funeral family gathering for her grandparents, reveals some astonishing secrets that serve to push Kitty over the edge. Yet while she ends up crossing a line and doing some unforgivable things, the author has painstakingly brought the reader to know and care about Kitty much too much to abandon her. This was a sad, quirky, wonderful story that doesn't sugar coat what she has done, while still offering hope in the end. I will look for more from this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2007

    An Astonishing Debut Novel

    This wonderful novel has gotten far too little attention stateside. Kitty Maitland has lost her baby and the capabillity of having another. Plunged into despair, she begins to question her life, her future, her very identity. Clare Morrall does a fine job of portraying Kitty's mind and emotions, which take form as colors in her perception. (Kitty often refers to 'the yellow period,' for example, and becomes absorbed in the swirling colors of her own skirt.) In the midst of her struggles, she begins to question her own memories. Why isn't she in any family photos? What happened to the older sister who suddenly disappeared? Why wasn't a funeral held for her mother, and why is nothing of her mother's left in the family house? Longing for a child of her own, Kitty becomes obsessed with other peoples' children, often imagining them to be her own dead Henry. A sad but lovely book that is somehow still shot through with hope and love.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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