Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan: A Novel of a Life in Art – by Deborah Reed – book review

NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for writing an impartial review. Scheduled publication – October 6, 2020. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.

The first thing I have to acknowledge is that I wanted to read this book because I recently began taking art lessons and thought a novel about an artist would coincide nicely with my budding interest. Unfortunately, despite this being a moderately short book (288 pages), it took me more than two weeks to finish it. That’s because whenever I wanted to sit down and read, I just never felt like picking this one up. I simply didn’t find the story very compelling. And it felt disjointed to me.

At its center is Violet Swan — a successful and still-working artist, an older widow, but in declining health. She lives on the West Coast near the ocean, on the second floor of a home with her 65 year old son, Frank, and daughter-in-law (Penny) below. Her closest relationship is with her grown grandson, Daniel, a filmmaker living in Los Angeles.

Theirs is a family full of tension. Frank and Penny’s relationship is strained. Violet’s relationship with Frank is awkward. The shadow of Violet’s much-loved, late husband hangs over everyone. And Violet has her own troubled past that is only SLOWLY revealed as you progress through the book. There are various types of family dysfunction, some mental illness, and plenty of personal secrets long buried. What begins to bring all of them to light is Daniel’s desire to make a documentary about his famous grandmother — something Violet has, up until now, refused to do.

Deborah Reed

A lot of promise here, right? But for me, it never quite came together. Aside from assorted references to obscure names of colors, it really isn’t very much about an artist’s life. The main characters are distinct and fully drawn and do develop and grow as the family secrets are exposed. But I found I didn’t really care much about any of them. So, I don’t feel like I can strongly recommend this book though if you look at other reviews, there were many people who like the book more than I did.

More about the author, Deborah Reed.