A review of The Fate of Pryde by Mary Martin

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Fate of Prye
The second in The Trilogy of Remembrance
by Mary Martin
November 8, 2011, ISBN: 1466263814, Paperback: 334 pages

Jonathan Pryde is an enigmatic man. A generous benefactor and patron of the arts, he commissions artist Alexander Wainwright to do a series of stained glass windows in his French castle. Despite the Pryde’s obvious philanthropy, and the way in which this new project excites Wainwright’s creative sensibilities, Wainwright senses that something is very wrong in Pryde’s world, and his attempts to uncover the truth lead him on a fascinating and dangerous search through the notions of good and evil and how they manifest themselves in our lives.

The Fate of Pryde is the second story in The Trilogy of Remembrance, taking the reader back into the ‘numinous’ world of the Turner Award winning painter Alexander Wainright. Martin has a keen eye for the artistic visions of her key character and unites his Western orientation with Eastern mythology in this fast paced new book. Certainly the mystery that surrounds and motivates Jonathan Pryde and the poor ‘lost souls’ that inhabit his castle, drives the story rapidly towards its conclusion, but this is more than simply a story of suspense. The novel touches on some serious thematics such as the relationship between art and life, on both ethics and philosophical responsibility, and ultimately, on how we create meaning in our lives – both as artists and as individuals.

The story is well researched, with a deep knowledge of art history, particularly the work of Cézanne, Chagall and Matisse, whose work provides the delicate setting of Pryde’s St Maxime’s castle. The story moves between Wainright’s London home and Pryde’s Mediterranean residence, which is beautifully depicted:

They began to stroll high up along the outer ramparts of the town. From their vantage point, yellow, green and purple hills lay before them in the early summer light all the way down to the sea. Within the walls, branches of bushes and trees were laid low by the lush profusion of red, white and yellow flowers.

“Shall we stop down in the village for a drink, Alex? It’s getting rather hot out here.”

Alexander nodded and they started back down the path to the main square. They sat at a wooden table in the café in the square under broad-leafed branches which swayed with the cooling breeze.

Coupled with Alexander’s story is the sub-tale of Peter Cummings, who, like Alexander, returns again from the first book The Drawing Lesson. Peter begins the story as the same irritatingly childish character that he was in the first book, but his transformation, and the deft way in which Martin brings the two tales together, is a satisfying one for the reader. Readers who found the relationship between the writer and the author just a bit too intense in the first book will be relieved to find Peter living his own life in this story, working through his past and attempting to assuage his own artistic demons in a way that supports Alexander’s efforts.

Alexander’s struggles with a new artistic medium, and the way in which the visual and the aural are combined help keep the tension in the story complex, slowlyt he reader slightly, and allowing the richness of characterisation and setting to stay foremost in the reader’s mind, even as the tension and suspense drive the narrative. Against these strong characters, the narrative voice of James Helmsworth, Wainwright’s art dealer, comes in as quite weak, almost as an undeveloped afterthought, however, few readers will mind the lapse there, as he’s such a minor part of the overall story. For fans of The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde won’t disappoint, revealing new depths to Wainwright, and indeed to the whole notion of what it means to be a person striving to make meaning in this world. The combination of strong plot, good characterisation, and a rich tapestry of setting, philosophic enquiry, and suspense makes this an engaging and enjoyable read.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, Repulsion Thrust, Quark Soup, and a number of collaborations and anthologies. Find out more about Magdalena and grab a free copy of her book The Literary Lunch at www.magdalenaball.com.