Art On Fire by Hilary SloinArt On Fire by Hilary Sloin is a fantastic pseudo biography of the life and the artwork of Francesca deSilva.

Art On Fire is a fictional biography about Francesca deSilva; a world renowned painter who is the foremother of pseudorealistic paintings and she was instrumental in making this unique style of art popular among college students and liberal feminists. She lived and loved deeply but she died way too soon. Every word of this story is pure fiction even though there were detailed commentaries from several art critics.

This story showcases Francesca’s lonely childhood, the little attention and love she received from her parents, the intense rivalry between her and Isabella and the sizzling attraction between her and Lisa Sinsong. Francesca always found solace in her grandmother’s arms whenever she felt neglected by her parents but her grandmother’s affection abruptly dries up when she learns that Francesca is a lesbian. Francesca runs away to Wellfleet, Massachusetts. She lives in a dilapidated cabin and she works at a flea market in order to make ends meet. Her career as an artist truly begins when she breaks into the basement of an unoccupied house to pour out the longings of her heart on numerous blank canvases. Francesca is bewildered and upset when she becomes famous because she only wanted to earn a living as an artist; she didn’t set out on her artistic journey to become a public figure, represent the entire lesbian community or female artists at all.

Will Francesca ever be able to come to terms with her painful upbringing and reconcile who she was with who she has become? Will Francesca and Lisa be able to live their lives in the way they have always desired?

The Characters

Francesca deSilva is an extraordinary artist who pours her soul onto the canvas. She has grown up in the shadow of her brilliant sister, Isabella who was a child prodigy. My heart ached for Francesca because she silently endured the pain of being tolerated as a child and then when she got older and her talent as an artist became well-known, everyone wanted to be in her life. I am always drawn to the strong and silent butch women and Francesca certainly fits the bill because her reserved personality kept me on my toes while I tried to figure her out! There were many instances where I really wanted to reach through my kindle so that I could give Francesca the biggest hug ever because I wanted to take away some of the sadness that has been plaguing her for most of her life. 

Lisa Sinsong is the only woman who has ever owned Francesca’s heart. She was once a formidable chest champion and she was also Isabella’s childhood friend. Lisa struggles with her mother’s death, her father’s indifference toward her and the fact that she has a soft spot in her heart for Francesca. She rages against the submissive role her father forces her into and she wrestles with her desire for freedom and her fear of falling in love with Francesca. Lisa is feisty and blunt (what you see is what you will get with her!) I really admire Lisa because she had to stay strong during horrible situations that would have brought me to my knees in surrender.

The Writing Style

I would be lying if I said that I’d read a fictional biography before and I’m so glad this story was my first. This story catapulted me into a world of quirky women, agony, deep regrets, loss, artwork, death and desire. Hilary Sloin made me fall in love with art in every sense of the word. This talented author did a fabulous job of giving me vivid descriptions about each of Francesca’s paintings and I felt as though I was seeing them firsthand.

The Pros

I’ve always been a huge fan of women who are good with their hands and I’ll gladly follow Francesca anywhere! I’m not ashamed to admit that while I was reading this story, I pretended that Francesca was in my living room and she was about to paint me. I had a hearty chuckle while I laid on my couch and I spoke aloud, “Francesca my love, paint me and capture my ecstasy just like you did with the woman reclining on a blue couch…” Sigh, a girl can daydream about such things, right?

The Cons

You won’t get any complaints from me!

aprils favourite booksThe Conclusion

Trust me, this story will snag your attention from the first page and hold you captive for hours on end because I can guarantee that you will get caught up in the sibling rivalry between Francesca and Isabella. You’ll also enjoy watching Francesca grow up to become the woman she was always meant to be. My nerdy heart was bursting with pride and joy because Francesca delved into her creative genius and she gave birth to thought-provoking and heart-tugging paintings. No other story will ever affect me the way this one has because Hilary Sloin has created a literary masterpiece that cannot be duplicated.

Excerpt from Art On Fire by Hilary Sloin

“You can kiss me,” she said.

Reflexively, Francesca leaned back. She’d wanted to kiss Lisa since they’d sat in her room, but she felt sure it was a perverse thing to want. She’d wanted to touch Lisa’s hands, even though Lisa was a girl. She’d wanted something she could not define since that first meeting in the hallway.

“Don’t you want to?” asked Lisa.

No, no, no, thought Francesca. She nodded.

“So?” Lisa puckered up and waited.

Francesca leaned over slow as a bending branch, inching her face closer and closer until she could feel Lisa’s breath across her lips. She pressed her mouth down onto Lisa’s and held it there, perfectly still. How complicated it was, the dry moist soft cool sending her body orbiting into space, then thrusting into deep, wet earth. Her head was dizzy. She leaned her weight on her hand so as not to collapse like a building onto the girl’s small frame. Her mouth slackened, lips parted, making room for Lisa’s tongue. And then it came, the tongue, feeling in her mouth nothing like her own tongue, making the world open like a door into hot sunlight. She felt herself bleed inside. Lisa hooked her feet around Francesca’s legs and pressed hard at every possible intersection, until they were moving and rolling, bearing no resemblance to the two awkward, introverted girls they’d been all their lives.

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Note: I received a free review copy of Art On Fire by Hilary Sloin. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site

Art on Fire Book Cover Art on Fire
Hilary Sloin
Fiction
Bywater Books
December 11, 2012
336

Art on Fire is the apparent biography of subversive painter Francesca deSilva, the founding foremother of "pseudorealism," who lived hard and died young. But in the tradition of Vladimir Nabokov's acclaimed novel Pale Fire, it's a fiction from start to finish. It opens with Francesca's early life. We learn about her childhood love, the chess genius Lisa Sinsong, as well as her rivalry with her brilliant sister Isabella, who publishes an acclaimed volume of poetry at the age of twelve. She compensates for the failings of her less than attentive parents by turning to her grandmother who is loyal and adoring until she learns Francesca is a lesbian, when she rejects her. Francesca flees to a ramshackle cabin in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, working weekends at the flea market. She breaks into the gloomy basement of a house, where she begins her life as a painter. Much to her confusion and even dismay, fame comes quickly. Interspersed with Francesca's narrative are thirteen critical "essays" on the paintings of Francesca deSilva by critics, academics, and psychologists—essays that are razor-sharp satires on art, lesbian life, and the academic world, puncturing pretentiousness with every paragraph. Art on Fire is a darkly comic, pitch-perfect, and fearless satire on the very art of biography itself. Art on Fire is the latest winner of the Bywater Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the Heekin Foundation Award, the Dana Awards, and the Story Oaks Prize. It was mistakenly awarded the nonfiction prize in the Amherst Book and Plow Competition.