Artists: are they all a pain in the hole, or is it only the vast majority? This is just one of the important discussion points raised by Sara Baume’s second novel.
Frankie, the narrator and heroine, is a fine-arts graduate (as distinct to me, a fine Arts graduate) and former big-city gallery employee who has returned to live with her family in rural Ireland. As suggested by her name, Frankie’s particular brand of irritant is the artist’s prerogative of speaking their mind — in her case, being needlessly obnoxious to hairdressers, doctors and other well-meaning philistines.
To be fair to her, though, her bluntness stems from insecurity and her difficulty in adjusting to grown-up concepts like responsibility and community. Clearly craving human connection, she listens avidly to daytime talk radio but interacts awkwardly with family and neighbours. Meanwhile, her current artistic project is to photograph the local roadkill. In every sense, Frankie is missing the bigger picture.
As far as plot and action goes, this is more or less it. But Frankie, for all her annoying self-pity, is a believable character with a genuine talent for minting pithy quips and seeing the world at odd angles. Baume presents her sympathetically and gives her sufficient insight to recognise that she ought to be trying a bit harder.
Another entry on the credit side of the ledger: Baume writes wonderfully well. Her debut novel, the award-winning Spill Simmer Fall Wither, rang hollow for me because I couldn’t believe that book’s narrator, an uneducated middle-aged man who had rarely ventured out of his native village, would realistically speak in the carefully crafted prose style of a young university-educated author. But this time the narrative voice suits the narrator. True, a young university-educated narrator isn’t much of an imaginative leap for Baume, but at least it’s credible.
If you fancy a break from gory whodunits or heart-wringing dramas, then A Line Made By Walking is a fine way to savour some quiet observations and refreshing prose. But be nice to hairdressers, please.