Author: Maria Hummel
Released: June 5th 2018
Received: Own (BOTM Pick)
Warnings: Covers famous but real murders, stalking, feelings of being unsafe
When I first read the description of Still Lives I knew right away that I had to read it. It’s described as essentially being a thriller novel set in the art world, and I couldn’t be happier about that concept. It touches upon famous murders during the course of the description and novel, but thankfully doesn’t appear to be trying to mimic any of them.
Warnings first: The artist in this novel uses real life murders for one of her shows; that much you probably already knew from the description of the book. The Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, and many others are all mentioned to varying degrees. The artist literally paints herself in as these women for her portraits, and it’s pretty disturbing. The degree of detail mentioned about each portrait varies, but the intent is clearly to disturb you. Additionally there’s mention of stalking and overall trying to capture the feeling women experience of not being safe in certain settings.
Still Lives is such an interesting concept for a novel. For one thing, the title alone is incredibly provocative when in the context of a thriller novel. For another, having it set in a museum and revolving around artists and those that work in the art industry…it’s unique. I’ve only read a handful (if that) of novels based in this world, and none went about things in this manner. It’s refreshing to read a thriller novel that stands out among the rest.
Have you ever read a thriller and you just know – right from the beginning – that a certain character is going to die? That’s pretty much what happens here. The description hints at it, the atmosphere implies it, and a dozen other little moments that really help prepare you for that moment. You’d think it’d take away from the plot, but it doesn’t.
There are a lot of interesting points made during the course of this story. There’s an obvious discussion going on about the tendency to turn violence against women into something more alluring, almost like a fetish (and in some cases literally that). The show that Kim puts on forces that idea to the forefront: she is a woman painting other women’s worst fears and real life events onto herself.
The show itself is worthy of a discussion. Kim says that they’re not self-portraits, which may be the case. Likely each reader will form their own opinion on the matter (I know I did). Then there’s the popularity of the show. People were literally flocking to it. Granted, that was partially because Kim was missing, but doesn’t that further the point being made here?
And finally we have the obvious: the subject matter of the show itself. These women died horribly and never got a say in anything the media showed or told us about them. How would they feel about a show like this? How would their family feel? For that matter, how would the media react to it? It’s interesting trying to picture this happening in real life – it would create a huge stir that much I’m sure of.
The fear women face is constantly lingering in the shadows during the entirety of this novel. Sometimes that feeling helped to enhance the story being told, other times it hampered it. In the end it’s all about the way it was used.
Ironically the show ends up being relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. It was the perfect way to set an introduction; we learned about the main character (who is NOT Kim, thankfully we don’t see what happens to her in first person), the setting, Kim’s character, and all of the little details intentionally set out to obfuscate the truth of what really happened here.
I’ll admit I was a little disappointed by the conclusion – a common occurrence lately, it feels like. There was so much potential to this novel, and it almost just feels like it petered away as it went. I still think it was worth reading, I just wish it had a more solid ending.