Alida Salter's life has been, to a great extent, on hold since the tragic death of her infant daughter Kizzy thirteen years ago. When she receives a call in the middle of the night notifying her that her other daughter, Mia, has not been seen for a week and is feared dead, Alida flies to India to search for her, despite the protests of her ex-husband Ian. As she tries to find the daughter she lost the day Kizzy died, Alida discovers herself.
I was initially tempted to put Breathing in Colour aside - part of Jay's Creative Writing PhD, it was irritatingly overwritten and heavy on the shadowing, with lines like "As usual Alida tried to shift her thoughts away from the event that had destroyed their happy balance"; "the telephone shrilled; a shocking sound in the silence which caused Alida to quickly swivel around in her chair to stare at it"; "her room was steeped in expectant silence"; and "in one smooth motion she gathered her limbs and leapt from the bed." I grant you, none of these in itself is particularly objectionable but, as is obvious from the last few posts, I'm not in a particularly indulgent place right now, and these grated. I also found the notification call, which is all Alida's responses, particularly annoying. However, mindful of the unprecedented number of books I've cast aside within a few pages of late, I decided to give Breathing in Colour more time to prove itself.
I'm so glad I did. Combining Alida's present time journey with chronological snatches of Mia's memories, Breathing in Colour portrays a story of deep betrayal, loss, grief, joy, art, discovery, forgiveness and colour. India is the ideal setting, as that richly tapestried land beautifully complements the explosive assault to the senses Mia intermittently experiences - she has synesthesia, a condition where senses are cross-experienced so that noises have colour, textures are flavoured, and colours are textured.
The new setting allows Alida to reexamine her past and her relationship with Mia. This is aided by the presence of Taos (rhymed with house), an Australian artist who encouraged Mia to express her lucid dreams as collages, which is turn provide Alida with clues about Mia's location. As Alida retraces Mia's footsteps, through a combination of knowing her daughter and these clues from Mia's abandoned room, Alida begins to express her own experiences through writing.
Taos is travelling his own journey of exploration, and together they examine the weight and impact of memory and loss, grief and rebirth, patterns and numbers, the nature of self and the way we choose to view what happens to us. Vital to the narrative is art and self expression, and the role of the artist is explored in a way I both connected with myself (not an artist), and that an artist friend found resonant.
I have long been fascinated by synesthesia, and this fictionalised account of the experience added a dimension to what would otherwise have still been an interesting, albeit less engaging, novel. Maybe I ought to revisit some of those works I recently thrust aside on only preliminary exploration. - Alex