Saturday 18 February 2023


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Pure Colour by Sheila Heti {Reviewed by STELLA}

Curious and more curious, in Pure Colour Shelia Heti takes us further than she has before. If you’re a Heti fan, you will be used to her turn of phrase and oblique references as well as her wry absurdist touch. In her earlier novels, How Should A Person Be? Heti gave us a wild and wonderful exploration of a young person dipping her feet in the world, with all the bravado you would expect as well as the doubt; while Motherhood explored that moment in life when you ask the big questions about art, relationships and parenthood. In Pure Colour, Heti makes another jump and then plunges sideways. It’s more existential and probing, and flat bang in the middle the main character becomes a leaf. Seriously. Mira leaves home for college and studies art criticism, she works in a lamp shop and has fallen for the woman who works in the bookshop. She’s piecing together information and coming up with her own interpretations. People are either birds, fish or bears and respond according. Birds look down and see the world from above in an abstract fashion, thinking their way around it. Fish, being one of many, is more concerned with the collective whole, while Bear is particularly loyal to only a few or even one, and those in their ambit are completely secure in the Bear’s love. God’s got a lot to answer for in what Mira sees as God’s 'first draft', and there are some hilarious interludes about what God thinks/does: God “doesn’t want the criticism of the most dynamic parts of culture coming from someone in the middle of life… God doesn’t care what you think about a band”, and when Mira muses on why God didn’t make every face the same “A person can waste their whole life, without even meaning to, all because another person has a really great face.” The first draft is also real and scary — it’s too hot and much of life is pointless. Mira wanders through her life as though she is sleepwalking, and when her father dies she is pulled into a vortex of grief and an intense sense of her life as a leaf. She does emerge from the leaf, but life has moved on. Annie, the woman she is obsessed with, has moved on, the lamp store has gone and art critics who have been trained on paper are no longer as valid. She’s become one of the precariat and when she finally decides to up sticks and track down Annie, it’s too late. It was always too late — it was a mistake. Where is Shelia Heti going with this? Is she gently nudging us towards the inevitable second draft with Mira as our not-so-great-but-okay guide or is she simply playing another game in abstraction? Mira wonders “why she spent so much of her life… looking at websites, when just outside the window there was a sky”. Maybe Heti felt the same way. Pure Colour is intriguing and full of ideas that trigger more ideas, and you can decide whether you’re a bird, fish or bear if you play along.

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