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Saturday 15 September 2012

Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie


In the words of the lovable Forrest Gump, I didn't know what I was going to get...only this wasn't with a box of chocolates, but with each turn of the page! Moving paintings, disappearing wives, and a Welsh-speaking Spanish bus driver are just part of what make up this extraordinary and gripping novel.

Jacob Boyce, an Earth scientist and university professor, is fixated by a 17th-century painting in his local art gallery, much to the exasperation of his wife and his university employer. By carefully, and somewhat obsessively, observing the painting and measuring angles and dimensions within, he firmly believes it is ‘moving’.  Despite the pleas of his wife, Ella, to desist from his obsession, he continues to indulge in his compulsion.  When Ella goes missing, and he follows her to Spain where he believes she is, or has been taken, chance encounters and too much alcohol send him headlong into intrigue, mystery, and a multitude of unanswered questions.  What’s the link between the disappearance of his wife and his firm belief he has uncovered some sort of code in the painting?

This was a superbly crafted novel.  Jacob, although intelligent, almost geekish even, was a character I just didn't take to initially—his compulsion and neglect of his wife was unreasonable and somewhat annoying at first and I didn't find myself drawn to him at all.  But everything changes in the last part of the book.  It wasn’t totally unexpected;  you find yourself in limbo between normality and surrealism in the first part of the book, never quite knowing which is which or what the next page is going to bring, but it’s what makes the ending so spectacular and so contrastingly poignant. 

A brilliant psychological thriller.  

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