Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

(In which the unsaid are all that matters.)


Hickey’s debut novel reimagines the relationship of Emilie Flöge with the Viennese artist Gustav Klimt. Since my acquaintance with Klimt’s life and works is embodied by (only) the knowledge of this painting The Kiss (which fortunately was the focus of this novel) I researched a little about Klimt and decided that the novel will be a little heavy to the heart.

It took me a long time to finish the book, the initial reason for which was work and the secondary, the depression. For a woman to read something about a woman and a martyr for a man who doesn’t seem to know what he wants is such a huge source of disappointment and melancholia.

To Emilie, Gustav was a teacher, a friend, a brother, a lover and a man she loves deeply – of that I am sure. But whether Emilie was more than a student, a friend, a sister and a lover to Gustav remains a historical enigma. Art lovers will know how their affair ends with Gustav’s death and how another blow of confusion mixed with regret shook Emilie after knowing that hers was the name Gustav uttered in his last breath.

Unlike any of Gustav’s women, Emilie didn’t demand (at least not in the book). She took what he gave her. She forgave without an explanation from him. She loved him when he’s present and missed him when he’s gone. She nursed him in his sickness and waited for his return. She knew his mistresses but didn’t fret in public. Basically she knew what to do when she’s with Gustav. She knows better than to plead or beg for love or marriage. So she never even asked nor confessed.

If there’s something I liked about Gustav, it’s his reticence. But unfortunately, it is also one of the reasons why I hate him (aside from him being a chronic womanizer). He didn’t write memoirs or even keep a diary. He believed that people will know him when they look at his paintings yet in an episode, he altered a painting to obscure what was not supposed to be known. How then, can an artwork be reliable? His reticence usually solved his problems and got him out of disputes with a woman. But this is also one big reason why he’s misunderstood.

And yet when he spoke, it seemed like it was all too late for assumptions and explanations. And Emilie must have regretted that she never asked.

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