Opening with Eve on the verge of moving to London to pursue her studies as an art student, she is leaving her worn-down, sad, and alcoholic father, who has cared for her since her mother's death when she was small and she worries about his future knowing that she must break free and pursue her own life. She soon finds a close group of friends at school and starts painting jewel bright London cityscapes in celebration of the vibrant city in which she now lives. Eve also develops a friendship and a secret crush on a second year sculpture student, Zeb, who is already in a relationship.
When she chooses not to go home for Christmas, Eve makes the difficult decision to stay away from her needy father, anxious to conceal from herself just how poorly he is coping on his own. But he comes to find her in London, landing on her doorstep drunk and devastated. Frustrated by his embarrassing presence in her flat and his inability to face his demons, especially his alcoholism, she tells him to leave only to find herself consumed with worry and despair when he actually does disappear. Her cityscapes become riddled with nightmare characters and the colors are muddied and terrible as she embarks on a desperate quest to find him even as she knows he is lost to her, beyond saving.
The imagery in the novel is simply overwhelming and startlingly present. McEwen draws beautiful mental pictures of Eve's paintings, her friends' works, and Zeb's intricate and enchanting sculptures. Certain of her paragraphs are love letters to color and to technique. The art is detailed and full. The characters are not quite as vivid as their works although Eve's nightmares are lucid and phantasmagoric. The actual plot is really just a bildungsroman, Eve's coming of age and straining to break free of the past that she eventually comes to understand will be a part of her forever. The secondary characters' chosen subjects illuminate them as much as any description of them does. And Eve's artistic progression clearly highlights her inner turmoil and struggle. The middle section of the book, the search for Eve's father, overwhelms the framing sections a bit and makes the tone of the ending feel dreamily unearned. Over all though, there is some gorgeous and poetic writing here and McEwen can certainly paint a word picture.
I won a copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.