Pictures Of You is Jane Elmor’s second novel (her first, My Vintage Summer, came out a couple of years ago), and it’s what you need if you want to stay in because it’s raining/ lie on the beach with/ just sit back and enjoy. It has its dark side, but it’s cunningly constructed, and my only problem here is how to tell you about it without giving too much away.
There are three strands of narrative, but two of them are intimately connected. The central characters at the opening are mother and daughter, Angie and Luna. Angie is an ex-hippy, a survivor of the sixties, a survivor of communes, and stridently opinionated. Her daughter, who has been provided with the names Luna and Sprite, is happily if uneasily busy as a painter – uneasy at being so successful. She and her sculptor boyfriend Pierre live in a London flat. But then a large and awkward pebble is thrown into this still pool. Luna, who has never met her father, discovers that he has died, and that his family, who have tracked her down, want her to come to his funeral.
What I think works especially well is the way we are initially turned, as readers, against Angie; we’re encouraged just a little to see her as a stereotypical former flower-child, and one who seems to have deprived Luna of her father. But the novel uses a mobile series of flash-backs and flash-forwards to give us more about Angie, to flesh her out more fully, whilst at the same time complicating Luna’s life by having her embark, tenuously, on the idea of an affair.
And we also have to contend with the third strand of the narrative – to a teenage mother, Nat, whom we follow in brief flashes from 1994 onwards. This means we have three lines of plot to consider – what really happened to Angie in 1970, what Luna will do in 2003, and in what way Nat will fit into the story of the other two. For my money, it’s Angie’s story which is the most gripping – and of course, long before we discover how Nat will fit in, we get to compare the very similar but very different circumstances in which, in different decades, Angie and Nat have found themselves. Decide for yourself if Nat’s story is worked completely into the structure: my one doubt.
I don’t know of another novel which uses the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 (where Angie meets Luna’s father) – and the author was just a little concerned that I might spot a hole in her research! Hmmm. I have to say that I thought Kris Kristofferson played on the Friday night, was booed off, and that we were then obliged to give him a second hearing on the Saturday, not the Sunday, as in the novel. (I think booing him off was one of the more enjoyable forms of mass protest I’ve ever indulged in; but the crowd were roundly ticked off – it was like being at an assembly, not a festival – for being so impolite. So he was given a second chance to drone on, or we would probably have been asked to write out I DO NOT DESERVE TO SEE HENDRIX four hundred times.) But actually, it would not be wholly surprising if my memory had scrambled Mr. KK and his terrible combo. And research (okay, looking it up on the internet) tells me that we booed him off on Wednesday and didn’t get him back till early Sunday. So yes, I don’t remember it well.
But back to the novel: this is a really well-told series of intersecting stories, and no hint is given of the actual outcome of any of the tales. Like all good novels, it teases the reader on. You don’t have to have had a hot five days at a festival thirty-nine years ago to enjoy it. Its publishers should push it on to the station book-stalls with all due speed. I thought it was great, and read it in one enjoyable go. Your turn.