By Juliet Bates
Rated: 5 stars
About the Author
Juliet Bates studied art and art history in Bristol, Birmingham and Strasbourg, and has since lectured at graduate and post graduate levels.
She moved to France in 2000 to a post as professeur at the Ecole régionale des beaux-arts Caen la mer. She has published a number of short stories in British and Canadian literary journals.
Ellen sees the world differently from everyone else, but living in a tiny town in the north east of England, in a world on the cusp of war, no one has time for an orphaned girl who seems a little strange. When she is taken in to look after an rich, elderly widow all seems to be going better, despite the musty curtains and her aging employer completely out of
touch with the world. But pregnancy out of wedlock spoils all this, and Ellen is unable to cope. How will Jack, her son, survive – alone in the world as his mother was?
Can they eventually find their way back to each other?
The Colours is a sweeping novel of how we can lose ourselves, and our loved ones, for fans of Kate Atkinson and Virginia Baily.
The Colours begins in 1982 before whisking you further back in time to between 1912 and 1916 where Ellen starts to tell her story. The book alternates the protagonists of the story, through the years between Ellen and Jack.
The colours are vibrant and illustrative and you can almost see the salty water of the sea and the blood from her poor dad and the solomn black of a funeral. Colour is used well to portray emotions, that swirl around, capturing readers. It portrays synesthesia vivdly. Writers are often observant and take things in, but this is a whole different point of view of the places this book is set in, to how things like a train sound. You’ll never see a knife or a train or colours in the same way again.
Ellen travels to the Convent of The Sacred Heart – Roman Catholic Home for Orphans and Necessitous Females, where she learns the rules and meets the nuns and Father Scullion and the first world war breaks out and the familiar changes, but for Ellen, she doesn’t receive too much attention as everyone is busy getting prepared. The chat between religion and the feelings against the backdrop of being on the cusp of war is interesting.
Ellen sees colours differently from other people, more vibrantly and sometimes textured, sometimes they are people. She also has a love of a Monkey Puzzle Tree and books.
Ellen also discovers she is pregnant with an illigitamate child. The descriptions of the baby growing inside her are animated.
1931-40 is when Jack takes over and he’s not too fond of school and his mother has been taken to The Winterfield County Asylum and a glimpse into the place. The Second World War breaks out and there is well-written contrast between what went before the radio announcement by Chamberlain and after, all the while, the philisophical thread of religion, spirituality, life and death weaves skillfully through. Life certainly moves onto the end of the war and it’s realistic with people ageing and their predicaments being different.
People age and die during Ellen’s time too and along with Beadie, there are some really tender, heartfelt moments of care to someone who is deceased.
Jack 1956-61 brings love and some great opportunities about his art are on the horizon.
In 1981, you can see what becomes of Jack and Ellie, now they’ve somewhat aged. It’s a more subdued chapter, in their autumn years and brings the book to a strong end.
I do recommend this very original book, especially if you enjoy Kate Atkinson’s books.