‘Letters to Gwen John’ by Celia Paul

Rachel Cooke at The Guardian:

As its title somewhat suggests, the artist Celia Paul’s second book takes the form of a series of letters to Gwen John, whose life, she believes, was “stamped with a similar pattern” to her own, and a postcard of whose painting The Convalescent she keeps in her studio (just one look at it, she says, and her breathing becomes easier). But this description is also – happily, I think – misleading. As anyone who has ever written a love letter will know, such notes inevitably say more about correspondent than recipient. If love is, as Paul suggests, the highest form of attention, it’s also a mirror: a means, marvellous and occasionally highly dangerous, of seeing ourselves anew.

I don’t mean at all to suggest that Paul is in love with John. But these are intimate letters, their author seemingly having taken to heart Colette’s writing advice (look at what gives you pleasure, but look longest at what gives you pain), and it’s this that enables me to forgive, if not quite to overlook, the rather fey idea of a one-sided conversation with a woman who died in 1939.

more here.