Kristel Thornell

Night StreetOn The Blue TrainThe Sirens Sing

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"a quiet, exquisite paean to female independence and artistic vision."
Kate Holden, Sydney Morning Herald, Best Books of the Year

"consistently impressive. ... a study in emotional nuance. There is a rare perspicacity to her writing, an ability to capture the flickering implications of interpersonal contact, that is remarkable in a first-time novelist. Beckett ... is, in Thornell's hands, a literary descendant of Lily Briscoe from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse; a person whose creative life inevitably involves a struggle with the burden of being a female modernist artist, with all the preconceptions and social expectations those three terms entail. ... a meditation on the creative process .... ...Night Street, written in a style of luminous clarity, vindicates her impressionistic aims. Her fictional Beckett - observant, sensitive and intelligent - is a creation of depth and subtlety, drawn in a way that is understated yet palpable and that, most importantly, rings true."
James Ley, The Age

"Thornell's prose, with its glowing language, its delicate and restrained tones, is a perfect instrument for approximating Beckett's unique palette."
Geordie Williamson, The Australian

"unfolds with subtle grace as a deeply impressive, poetic investigation into the deceptively unremarkable life of a remarkable artist. ... it's this sense of containment and self-dissolution that Thornell captures so effectively with her beautifully poised prose. ...Thornell reveals the quiet passion and sensuality behind the private persona.... Thornell uses language the way Beckett uses light, removing characters from the present and placing them in a dislocated littoral zone outside time and space."
Liam Davison, Weekend Australian

"delicate and arresting ... a powerful work of fiction about the way in which an unobtrusive life ... can actually ripple with feeling and intensity. She is ... the kind of realist who can capture eroticism with an absolutely taut restraint and can also show the places in the heart that sorrow comes to occupy.
It's an impressive portrait of a quiet woman who is also a powerful artist and it manages the very difficult feat of making both the creator and the woman who suffers and exults equally credible. It's the kind of book that might make a good film if it met with a director and scriptwriter of sufficient delicacy."
Peter Craven, Australian Author

"Whether or not you are familiar with the work of Clarice Beckett, this sensitive novel about that talented young painter will captivate .... Night Street is a beautifully paced read, and as atmospheric as a Clarice Beckett landscape."
Kabita Dhara, Bookseller & Publisher

"There's a line early in Kristel Thornell's Vogel Literary Award-winning debut novel that seems to crystallise the sensibility of this remarkable work. 'Tones came first,' she writes. 'Apt and beautiful, the word tone for describing the stages of intensity of light and shade, gradations in luminosity being indeed every bit as subtle and sliding as the moods of a voice.' She's referring to painting but she might as well be describing her own writing, which relies on a tone that is at once ghostly and stunningly assured to recreate the life of early 20th-century Australian painter Clarice Beckett. Moody, haunting, tonal paintings were Beckett's trademark, Thornell's similarly pitched literary landscapes may just see her achieve an even greater renown than her subject."
Alice Nelson, West Australian

"Kristel Thornell's imagining of Clarice Beckett's life is elegant, potent and picturesque. "
Herald Sun

"Thornell's deeply moving and poetic portrait of the artist this fictional character represents emerges as that of a brave, intelligent and extraordinarily talented woman who lived a life of self-sufficiency and great passion."
Imbi Johnston, Australian Women's Book Review

"Thornell does a magnificent job of capturing the artist's yearning to disintegrate into the country she paints. Thornell has a special talent for ekphrasis and her descriptions of Beckett's paintings are vivid and arresting, her portrayal of the natural world often stunning."
Stephanie Bishop, The Australian Literary Review

"The language she uses is evocative of the mood and atmosphere which is evident in all of Clarice Beckett's paintings, making it as slow (but not boring), delicate and moody as any of her works. It is a beautifully written book and well worth slowing down for."
Denise Faulkner, Look Magazine, Art Gallery of New South Wales

"Thornell invokes a beautifully resonant image of Clarice as she urges her homemade artist's trolley forward, searching for the finest perspective from which to paint .... And Thornell's descriptions of the natural scenes that Clarice witnesses, that she 'actively contemplates' in order to render them on canvas and board, have a gorgeous quality to them, at once misty and crisp, downy and precise. ... In her use of language - the soft, breathiness of the words, the vaguely languid poetry that the writing embodies - Thornell cleverly encapsulates the style of Clarice's paintings ...."
Diane Stubbings, The Canberra Times

"A book of beauty."
Lucy Sussex, The Age SmartEdition.

"Beckett's life can be seen as bound by the conventions of gender roles and middle-class gentility in interwar Melbourne, but Thornell suggests a more complex story below the surface. She skillfully creates a sense of quiet tension between the unadventurous existence of spinster daughter dutifully caring for aging parents, and the ambition and drive implicit in Beckett's paintings. The artist's obvious talent and willingness to experiment rather than follow the paths expected of a woman painter of the era are highlighted, and the controlled sexual passion shown running alongside Beckett's passion for painting provides further evidence of self-determination.
This is an atmospheric imagining of a woman doing things her own way, on her own terms, despite external constraints."
Ann Standish, Readings.

"This is a carefully constructed and paced debut novel, and it is clear a steady hand has brought Clarice's life and thoughts to the fore."
Shaunagh O'Connor, Weekly Times Now.

"Night Street's Beckett ... is a vivid character, beautifully drawn. Her squinting but sure vision is the emotional landscape of this book... As a contemporaneous analogue to Beckett's contained impressionism, Thornell conjures up an impressive interwar-sounding syntax; its slightly stocky verisimilitudinous flow is a key pleasure of the book."
James Tierney, Newtown Review of Books.

"Not only is Night Street a fictional enactment of Beckett's life, it is an enquiry into her growth and maturation into an intuitive, perceptive, independent-minded -- and therefore unique -- artist. Further, it is a probing into those psychic impulses within Beckett that seek to observe and recreate the shifting light, the mist and the shade of the world, via the eye's intense gaze, and the hand wielding the paintbrush. Perhaps, also, Thornell as author is recognising within herself a parallel between the striving of an artist to "see" what is there, with her own desire to paint in words, and word images, a true fiction."
Roger Stitson, "Text Talk: Night Street by Kristel Thornell", The Age.

"Thornell ... is one whose imagination and discipline are on display in equal measure in this book. The former in devising a fictional, episodic account of the life of Clarice Beckett; the latter in doing so in a way that - quite extraordinarily - fashions the story in the same compelling, atmospheric, vivid yet subdued colours that the artist employed in her modernist depictions of '20s-'30s bayside Beaumaris, Melbourne.
... Thus Thornell creates a portrait - from the bare sketches of facts - but she has withstood the temptation to turn it into something gaudy and unlikely.
... Whether a reader approaches the book from the perspective of being an admirer of Beckett's work, or simply in search of exceptionally fine and intuitive writing, there is no disappointment to be found here."
Diana Simonds, Sydney University Alumni Magazine.

Canadian Reviews

"Night Street is a sensual novel with painterly undertones, smoky and lovely. The intermingling of a woman's art and her charged secret lives forms a rapturous alchemy, electric and haunting."
Mark Anthony Jarman, author of My White Planet

"Who would have thought a story about an Australian woman painter (Clarice Beckett) at the turn of the last century could be a page-turner? It was wonderfully written and I had trouble putting it down each evening to go to bed. I've never been to Australia, knew nothing about this painter, but found myself completely immersed in the story while walking in Clarice's shoes."
Gwen Hoover, International Festival of Authors.

"This extraordinary story found its roots when Kristel Thornell first encountered the paintings of the now-famous Clarice Beckett at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The subtle power of Beckett's landscapes prompted her to imagine Clarice's inner life, shaping the artist's history into a hauntingly erotic novel."
Malahat Review.

"In language subtle and fluid as brushstrokes, Kristel Thornell's novel, Night Street, insinuates past the surface and seeks, like painting, the place where landscape and character is indivisible. Based on the life of Australian artist Clarice Beckett, the writing is flecked with arresting insights, ridged with life's exigencies. This is a touching, unusual, beautiful book."
Beth Powning, author of The Sea Captain's Wife

"In this original and sensual novel, Kristel Thornell immerses us in the painter's experience and sees with her eyes. It's uncanny! She seems to write in brush strokes."
Joan Thomas, author of Curiosity

"Thornell's evocative, atmospheric language blends perfectly with her subject matter and is unquestionably what makes this novel such a unique read.
... Thornell's Night Street is a beautifully crafted and compelling novel that helps shed light on what life was life for a female artist at the beginning of the twentieth century. In spite of the paucity of information about the life of Beckett, Thornell has created a plausible and enjoyable account of the sort of life that Beckett could have lived. Thornell not only enchants the reader with her well-balanced descriptions that resemble the very portraits and landscapes they describe, but also turns the reader onto a supremely talented yet tragically overlooked and undervalued painter, Clarice Beckett."
Theresa Guihan, The Bull Calf Review.

"The writing in this novel is often transcendent. Thornell is after something in particular here, the landscapes and the shifting weather of the painter's consciousness... When Thornell is describing the architectonic of Clarice's mind her writing is a tour de force..."
Susan Haley, The Fiddlehead No. 255 Spring 2013.

"The first-time novelist has created a haunting narrative about another time and place... Thornell has crafted a world in which a woman artist negotiates the constraints of her era and her particular circumstances. In doing so, she has created word-canvases that depict the dark and the light of Clarice's life. The novel is rich with patterns of light and shade, which was Thornell's intention as she imagined Clarice Beckett looking at a landscape..."
Mary Ann Moore, Herizon Fall 2013.