An English Impressionist : A Novel
When the working class boy Trevor John Penny reinvents himself at Oxford as a sophisticated European academic there is only a part of him that is playing a game. Exploiting his intelligence for self-promotion and self-gratification is a serious, often thwarted ambition.
Doctor John fetches up in an academic backwater in the Dordogne where he finds a little-known cultural treasure chest and an enchanting American student, and both can change his fortunes for the better. The discovery of five sublime yet mysterious paintings in a Somerset barn raises the stakes and Penny must decide what is truly important in his life.
Narrated by an unassuming Frenchwoman who has her own dramatic family story to tell, An English Impressionist is a moving novel about literature, art and family secrets, and – just below the surface – vanity, deception and revenge.
"DARKNESS AND LIGHT, TEARS AND LAUGHTER:
A STORY OF VANITY, DECEPTION AND REVENGE"
An English Impressionist. This is the title of my third novel which I completed in April 2017.
Having written two stories set in Dorset (more or less), I wanted to move away from the area for the next one. I also wanted to explore a character who was not necessarily sympathetic and see how far I could twist him before a reader might begin to root for him in spite of his flaws.
A setting that appealed was France, specifically the Dordogne region of the south-west which I am familiar with. The protagonist’s background is on the fringes of Manchester in the north-west of England: a mirror of my own. It must be said, though, that not only is his story set at least ten years later than mine, it is a greatly misshaped version of my youthful years!
It is a title that is ambiguous in that the protagonist, an academic named Trevor John Penny, is a talented vocal impersonator whose interest in 19th century literature and art brings him into contact with the discoverer of a hidden collection of paintings in the French Impressionist style created by a little known English artist.
Penny’s academic prowess has enabled him to escape from a close-minded 1970s working class background – a past, along with his family’s part in it, which he is keen to forget and rarely acknowledges. Ambitious to leave his mark on the world of academia, he is nevertheless discharged from two British universities for a variety of misdemeanours and he fetches up in his late forties in an unpretentious university in Périgueux in the Dordogne.
This is where the story really begins as his search for an outlet for his vanity bumps up against a host of French characters and a notable American woman, all of whom have their own stories to tell.
November 2017: I used Andrea Stride’s interpretation of the photo on the right for the cover image of the book below:
Thomas Steeples’ own treatment of Beynac castle, perhaps not unlike Andrea’s, features in the story as one of the five discovered paintings that set Penny’s heart beating a little faster. Thanks, Andrea, it looks great here and even better on an actual book.
Read an extract from the book, the novel’s early pages, by clicking the link below:
For readers who have already finished the story I have posted in the blog page a short essay entitled An English Impressionist: a subtext for Brexit?
It is a series of musings that came to me which would be better read by anyone interested AFTER having read the novel. So, SPOILER ALERT!