Thursday 8 December 2016

Fiction: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Hamish Hamilton, €15.99

Anne Cunningham

Published 13/06/2016 | 20:43

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss.
Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss.

Molly Prentiss’s debut novel is a whirlwind, stopping first in Argentina in 1979, where the military junta is making more and more people disappear. Then it’s SoHo in New York before it was “gentrified”, and then to Ketchum, Idaho, where Lucy dreams big dreams of becoming “someone” in New York. 

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Lucy does arrive in New York, providing the hinge on which two very different stories hang; that of James, art collector and critic for The New York Times, and of Raul, an Argentinian painter who has fled his country, leaving his sister Franca behind in an increasingly volatile climate.

Writing about art is a tricky business. Flaubert said we shouldn’t even try, that to describe one art form through the medium of another is a fool’s game. So it’s a brave writer who takes on New York’s art scene, and an even braver one who pitches her story against the dawn of the anarchic 1980s. That said,  Prentiss has, I think, achieved her ambitious goal.

James has synesthaesia. He perceives ideas through colours, as apparently did Jimi Hendrix and Vladimir Nabokov. And he’s prone to breathless streams-of-consciousness passages. All three main characters are, each of them being so narcissistic as to be almost parodies.

There’s a lot of name-dropping, too. Artists, real and imagined, pop in and out, making cameo appearances at pivotal points. And of course there’s the sex and drugs, in horrible squats populated by whole families of cockroaches.  There are no heroes in this tale, except maybe a brave little woman in Argentina. There is no real goodness here, either. Everyone is tarnished. But it is highly original, it’s thought-provoking and I’ve no doubt it will spawn many a long, late-night debate.

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