An intensely satisfying novel that celebrates the short richly lived life of Australian artist, Clarice Beckett. Co-winner of the 2009 Australian/Vogel Literary Award.
Winner of the Australian/Vogel's Literary Award 2009.
Night Street is the passionate story of a young painter, Clarice Beckett, who defies society's strict conventions and indifferent art critics alike and leads an intense private and professional life. With her extraordinary talent for making simple city and seascapes haunting and mysteriously revelatory, Clarice paints prolifically and lives largely, overcoming the seemingly confined existence as the spinster daughter in the parental home.
Night Street began with Thornell's first encounter with the paintings of Melbourne artist Clarice Beckett (1887-1935) at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The subtle power of Clarice's highly atmospheric, enigmatic landscapes enabled her to imagine Clarice's inner life and shape an extraordinary novel.
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Kristel Thornell was born in Sydney, and has lived in Italy, Mexico, Canada, Finland and the US, where she is now based in upstate New York. She has degrees in Italian Studies and English, and a PhD from the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. She has published short fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, and the novel, Night Street, for which she co-won the Australian / Vogel Literary Award, and won the Dobbie Literary Award for a first book, and the Barbara Ramsden Award for book of the year. She was shortlisted for the Glenda Adams Award and the Christina Stead Prize for fiction in the NSW Premier's Awards, and was named one of The Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Australian Novelists in 2011.
Awards:Joint winner/co-winner., The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, 2009
Winner, FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers), Barbara Ramsden Award, 2010
Short-listed, NSW Premier's Literary Awards, UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, 2011
Short-listed, NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for New Fiction, 2011
Publisher:Allen & Unwin
Imprint:Allen & Unwin
Pub Date:September 2010
Format:Paperback - B format
Joint winner of the 2009 Australian/Vogel Literary Award Kristel Thornell grew up in Sydney, currently lives in the US and guest blogs for Readings to tell us the story behind her novel Night Street.
The seed of Night Street was planted in 2007. Before then I’d never heard of the artist, Clarice Beckett. I was living in the US. During a trip back to Australia, I’d gone to Adelaide for a few days. It was a torrid summer. In the cool refuge of the Art Gallery of South Australia, I found myself transfixed by a small painting of a misty city street. It was subtle and gentle—but at the same time, so involving, mysteriously deep. Powerfully atmospheric. I had a strange sense of deja-vu. The idea of the woman who, early in the twentieth century, had looked at the world in such a way began to haunt me.
I learned about Beckett and her art from Rosalind Holllinrake’s wonderful work. It was fascinating to me that the artist’s life could be read as a tragic or a triumphant story. Never marrying, Beckett had lived with and taken care of her parents; her art won her little recognition during her lifetime; she died at just forty-eight from double pneumonia after being caught out in a storm…. And yet, if you approached this life from a different angle, despite the elements of tragedy, it was magnificent: resilient, passionate. Day after day, usually around dawn and dusk, she was on the streets and beaches, painting. She explored her own sensuality–in her connection with her city and with nature, in relationships with men. She lived unconventionally, bravely, dedicated to her artistic vision and to the landscapes of Melbourne.
Night Street’s central character is a fictional Clarice haunted by Beckett. I chose not to write a biographical portrait, but to invent a kind of alternate history triggered by aspects of Beckett’s life and art–a psychological landscape. Beckett’s paintings privilege shading and feeling over the definition of edges and details, and I aimed for the novel to echo this. I wanted to pay tribute to Beckett by ‘seeing’ her as she might have seen a landscape–squinting to soften edges and reach beyond detail, hunting for patterns of light and shade.
Night Street is out now. Read the Readings review here.