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Saturday 21 April 2018

Review: Kelley Swain, The Naked Muse

This is a readable, gently written and gently paced book which spins off reflections on painting and (briefly) photography from the writer’s own experience of working as a life model. That experience is reflected upon in more depth and from more angles than I would have imagined possible and strikes me as a considerable achievement.

The author does have to navigate a particular context which I suspect imposes some restraints on the narrative. She is still young (born 1985) with a world of family, friends, boyfriends and an ex-husband. She wants to write about  life modelling experiences in identifiable environments – one assignment sees her employed for a month long course in Bruges and the narrative around this is central to the book. I think that this inflects the narrative towards modesty and positive assessments. 

We get something on the erotic charge in art but not much about erotica and its relation to the over-arching genre of art and we get a rather awkward passage (pages 58 – 61) about submissiveness and restraint. The problems arise from having chosen straight autobiographical narrative and would be eased by moving towards fiction or towards hard-edged social science. But then we would not have the book we have here.

I noticed a couple of proofing slips; “Holland and the Netherlands” (page 48) should read “Belgium and the Netherlands”.

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