Taking its title from a description of Peter Pan's Neverland, Astonishing Splashes of Colour follows the life of Kitty, a woman who, in a sense, has never grown up. As her moods swing dramatically from high to low, they are illuminated by an unusual ability to interpret people and emotions through colour.
Kitty struggles to come to terms with her life, including the loss of her mother, a miscarriage, and an unconventional marriage to her husband, who lives in the apartment next door. And when her father and brothers reveal a family secret long hidden, it overwhelms Kitty's tenuous hold on reality and propels her on an impetuous journey to the brink of madness.
This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
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About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Astonishing Splashes of Colour
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."
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.
"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.
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|
|7||A seriously happy world||220|
|9||On top of the world||279|
|10||That pinprick of time||302|
What People are Saying About This
“An extraordinary, gripping novel written with no sentimentality. A wonderful piece of writing”
“Equally dangerous and endearing, ASTONISHING SPLASHES OF COLOUR is a poignant tour through the many moods of loss.”
“Astonishing Splashes of Color commands us from the first page...”
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
- Is this exclusively a woman's book, or are the themes sufficiently universal to appeal to men?
- 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?
- What does the book tell us about mothers? Does anyone in Kitty's family survive unscathed by the lack of a mother?
- 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book tells the story of a woman on the verge of nervous breakdown, precipitated by a recent miscarriage that has left her unable to have children. The main character, Kitty, proceeds to do all sorts of irresponsible things, and it quickly becomes evident that her life is hurtling towads tragedy at warp speed. In the background of all of this is Kitty's disintegrating career, an unusually distant relationship with her husband, and an unusual ability to see and feel colors with great intensity. While I found the book interesting, Kitty was not an entirely sympathetic character. All too frequently, all the reader can do is cringe at Kitty's activities, as they are so obviously misguided, and she is so clearly in need of help. That said, this book presents an imaginative plot, and was an enjoyable read.
I finally picked up this book, which I had been looking at for quite some time. It grabbed my attention and kept it right through to the end. It's a sad story, but not without it's warmer and lighter moments, and certainly not without hope. Morrall creates a wonderful central character who goes through a painful process of self-discovery. The book is beautifully written. As soon as I finished it, I ordered her other works.
Not much of a novel, not much of a memoir. Too much discussion of a rare mental illness.
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.
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.