Paint It Black by Janet Fitch

Virago, 2007 (Aus, US)

If your lover ended their life, would you feel you had ever really known them? Josie Tyrell is an artist’s model and student-film actress in punk ’80s LA. She escaped her white trash upbringing for a life of parties, drugs, music and intriguing people. She met Michael, who gave up a Harvard education, a controlling concert pianist mother, and a mountainous inheritance to live an artist’s life with Josie. They were happy living on her wage with their tiny room, their lovemaking, and their fictional dreams of Montmarte and other faraway places.

The book begins with Michael’s death and then works through the complexities of Josie’s grief. At first, the reader is privy only to the love they had, and the deep loss of this. Josie’s is a world of nothingness without love. Then the last months of his life are worked through. There are more complex issues behind Josie’s guilt and wondering. Did she kill the thing she loved? Michael’s history is explored. Josie seeks answers in a hate/embrace relationship with his mother and her big dark mansion. She seeks answers in his art, his photographs, his possessions. She invites drug and alcohol-induced stupors; escapes through work, suicidal thoughts, the company of others, and places he had been. She seeks out her own soul, to discover what it is without Michael.

Paint it Black is an intense read. No character escapes loss, heartbreak, deep despair and depression. Even by the end there is no answer as to why such things occur, no clue as to how they can be avoided. The novel’s strength is its lack of sentiment. The lessons learned by the close are elegantly simple and only obvious through suffering. The characters show that people will always find something to hold on to, even if it’s not exactly hope. The novel is sad realism in the vividly painted world of punk LA. Janet Fitch also wrote White Oleander which has been made into a film. Paint it Black is well worth reading, especially for readers inclined toward the melancholy. 

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