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Book review: Margaret Forster's *Keeping the World Away*

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Keeping the World Away

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Painting it all away

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UK Edition. US Edition. Log in using your social network account. Please enter a valid password. Keep me logged in. Try Independent Minds free for 1 month See the options. You can form your own view. What Forster conveys most successfully is John's almost preternatural apprehension of light and colour, and the painful and obsessional rearranging of the peopleless content of the painting, which symbolises her own inner condition: the jaunty parasol of more frivolous days, the solitary chair, the frail primroses and the evanescent light through the attic window.

The painting is bestowed on a friend as a gift, and we guess, as she packs it carefully into her trunk, that, like its creator, its security is already compromised. And yet, of course, it isn't.

For the artist lives on in his or her creation, and this small patch of discreetly captured melancholy is to resurface in the lives of a number of women, acting as a catalyst in their stories. The novel's focus is the historic problem posed for women by the stringencies of art and the sacrifice of other potential, but competing, goods which the serious pursuit of it entails.

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This exacting choice is not confined to women, though traditionally for them it has been a rougher one, since in making it they have often had to jettison the rewards of marriage and motherhood. Forster pursues this theme convincingly, if sometimes stereotypically. Rather like the subject of her novel, she is better on women, and women's friendships with women, than on men, or women and men.

This is both the novel's strength and weakness. The power of women to enfranchise other women is movingly done.