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Solomonovsky: Michael J Landy

February 25, 2010

16-year-old Ruth Levinson is snooty, pampered, and in cold control of her destiny. Until Solomonovsky steps into her life and sends it hurtling off into the darkest corners of hell. Can she escape unharmed?

‘I enjoyed it, admired it, and found myself gripped by it. I put my work down to read 30 pages or so, and read the whole book at a sitting.’

DAVID NOBBS
(Creator of Reginald Perrin)

Solomonovsky has been languishing in my reviewing-bag for far too long. I’ve made several attempts to read the book so that I could write a decent review: but despite Michael J Landy’s fluent writing and mostly-clean editing I’ve made very poor headway with this book.

Solomonovsky is a painter, and Landy frequently lapses into floweriness when showing him at work. Although I suspect this was done in order to convince the reader of Solomonovsky’s genius, it had quite the opposite effect on me: I found Solomonovsky a tiresome, boorish character. I didn’t like him at all: he’s arrogant, manipulative and sexually predatory, without a shred of kindness to redeem himself with and no, I don’t for a moment buy into the stereotype that creative people are allowed to be so very oafish: arsey behaviour is unacceptable no matter how you earn your living. And because of that, I simply do not believe that the women who encounter him would behave the way that they do: they all adore him no matter how rudely and disreputably he behaves, and no reason is given for his behaviour. At least, no plausible one.

At one point a prim and respectable married woman, who is so emotionally buttoned up that even her husband has never seen her naked, is asked by Solomonovsky to pose naked for him.
She finds the idea, and Solomonovsky, appealing (god knows why: he is unrelentingly self-centred and rude) and although she hesitates, when he shows her his painting of one of her friends, who is equally repressed and absolutely starkers, she is persuaded:

“Lilian Bookbinder. When I look at her, displaying her nakedness, I know what she is thinking. I have been allowed to see deep into the soul of another human being. He has done that. He has made me read the expression on her face and now I know her better than anyone does, I understand her the way Solomonovsky understands her.”

I would have thought a more reasonable reaction for her would be to be horrified at the idea of him showing a painting of her own naked self to all and sundry: but no, not only does she find the whole thing somehow enlightening, she agrees to allow her sixteen-year-old daughter, who she chaperones everywhere, to also pose for Solomonovsky alone despite it being obvious that the bloke is going to come on to the daughter too.

This could have made for a powerful story if it had been made more believable: I’m sure that could have been done if the writer had given his characters a little more depth, provided them with some plausible motivation, and explored their internal conflict with more thought and care. As it is, I just didn’t buy it and my reading ground to a halt as a result.

I read to page forty-five and despite Landy’s unusually fluent and articulate prose, find myself relieved to be done with this one.

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