I initially picked up Annalena McAfee’s NIGHTSHADE because of the cover, but the front-cover puff quote from THE OBSERVER really grabbed me: “A glorious novel. … Full of twisted sexuality, art and power. … Brutal and unforgettable.” It’s a rather generic remark, yes, but I bought it because I wanted a ticket for that ride.
It did not disappoint, and the puff quote is entirely accurate. I’ll note in advance that, due to how the book is paced, this is a very difficult novel to summarize and I’d hate to give anything away.
Protagonist Eve Laing is a prickly, spiteful painter in her sixties who has had some success with her realistic portrayals of flowers in her works, notably in substituting flowers for the London Underground tube map. She’s brainstormed a new work, one focused on poisonous flowers, which is meant to be her magnum opus.
At first, NIGHTSHADE feels in the vein of Margaret Atwood’s CAT’S EYE (a personal favorite) in that it’s an older creative substantially reflecting on their artistic and personal life while navigating a city.
Then it takes a turn. Then another. And another.
It takes a while to unfurl but, if you have the patience for it, you will be rewarded.