In the Full Light of the Sun
Berlin 1923, Julius Köhler-Schultz in his late fifties, is a successful art critic and writer. His rather rushed marriage to the philandering and much younger Luisa has ended in acrimony, and she flees to her parents in Munich, taking with her Julius’s young son, and, more annoying for him, his much-loved self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh. Julius becomes friendly with Matthias Rachmann, a young art dealer from Düsseldorf, and then he also takes under his wing a young, rebellious, artistically talented 17-year-old schoolgirl, Emmeline Eberhardt, who wants to study art at the Berlin Academy. The novel then moves to focus on the life of Emmeline in late 1920s Berlin, with a switch to a third narrator, Frank Berszacki, a Jewish lawyer in 1933, who records the rising threat of the ruling Nazi Party to his livelihood. The connecting thread is Van Gogh and the contested matter of art forgery – of relevance as Germany entered the period of Nazi rule when truth consisted of what the Party said it was, and perhaps also to today, when the notions of the primacy of old-fashioned objective truths have been challenged by political elites.
Clare Clark’s narrative voice is pitch-perfect, and the story is a delight to read. The historical background is excellent. I found the final part of the triptych did not initially blend in easily with the two previous elements and was initially rather an unwelcome disruption to the smooth narrative thread. All of her previous novels have been historical fiction and reviewed by the HNS – this is her first publication since 2015.