The Center of the World

Written by Thomas Van Essen
Review by Viviane Crystal

J. M. W. Turner, the famed 19th-century British artist, is a master of color with a fiercely independent and iconoclastic personality. This is the story of his art, in particular of how he experiences truth as the type of erotic understanding a man could know. His patron Lord Egremont is mesmerized by Turner’s words and paintings because in the 1800s, as in our century, real men pander more to what is expected than to reality. He urges Turner to paint that truth that no one else will express.

Lord Egremont urges the young Charles Grant, a writer-friend and secret homosexual, to become part of the inspiration for a new creation unlike any other painting, “The Center of the World,” which depicts Helen of Troy in a most troublesome pose. Every man who initially steps into the sight of this painting is forever changed, haunted, possessed, and almost destroyed! What is the mystery of its power to create this effect so far beyond words or expression? Viewers become addicted to spending hours before this “beauty” that quickly becomes an obsession.

The novel then switches to the 21st century. A descendant of Lord Egremont, Cornelius Rhinebeck, an industrialist, financier and art collector, vows to pay a huge amount to find the now-missing painting. A different character, Henry, finds the painting and drops out of life because of it, and an art dealer, Bryce, connives to buy or steal the painting by using his female art assistant as an amateur detective. Van Essen conveys all this with a surreal ambience that heightens the mysterious quality of his ever-changing, shocking scenes and characters. Notable historic fiction!