Night Street is the passionate story of a young painter, Clarice Beckett, who defies society's strict conventions and indifferent art critics alike and leads an intense private and professional life. With her extraordinary talent for making simple city and seascapes haunting and mysteriously revelatory, Clarice paints prolifically and lives largely, overcoming the seemingly confined existence.
Inspired by the art and life of the Victorian artist Clarice Beckett (1887-1935), Night Street is the story of a painter who, having remained unmarried by choice, continues to live with her ageing parents. Hers is an existence which, from the outside, appears both restrictive and monotonous. In fact, it masks a vibrant and passionate hidden life. With a mobile painting trolley in lieu of a studio, Clarice makes her way through the streets and coastline of Melbourne at dawn and dusk where she creates sombre, enigmatic landscapes. Through her art, she enters into a world of sensuality and freedom, away from the constraints of a conservative and disapproving society.
Thornell is a beautiful writer. Her evocation of the painter Clarice, who fights against societal conventions whilst being pushed, to outwardly adhere to them, is powerful, eloquent and moving. The clarity and simplicity of Thornell's writing resonates through the book, highlighting its undercurrent of fervour and passion, as it propels the narrative forward with a masterful sense of poetic urgency.
Night Street began with Thornell's first encounter with the paintings of Clarice Beckett at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The subtle power of Beckett's enigmatic landscapes enabled her to imagine Clarice's inner life and shape an extraordinary novel.
Winner: Dobbie Literary Award
Winner: FAW Barbara Ramsden Award
Winner: Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelist Award
"In real life, the Australian Clarice Beckett was a tonalist painter famous for her misted landscapes. Thornell evokes this same ethereality but, unlike Beckett, she reveals her own marrow only in the briefest of glimpses." — Scene
"The novel manages to capture the paintings, and the life, of Beckett. Not much is actually known of Beckett, but portraying her life as a reflection of her paintings is inspired, especially as Thornell pulls it off." — An Adventure in Reading
"Thornell's evocative, atmospheric language blends perfectly with her subject matter and is unquestionably what makes this novel such a unique read. The result is a portrait of Beckett that appropriates many of the techniques favoured by the painter, particularly, as Thornell acknowledges in the postscript to her novel, ‘squinting to soften edges and reach beyond detail in search for patterns of light and shade.’... Night Street is a beautifully crafted and compelling novel... 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, Claire Beckett." — The Bull Calf
"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." — Herizons
"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
"Night Street is a sensual novel with painterly undertones, smokey and lovely. The intermingling of a woman's art and her charged secret lives forms a rapturous alchemy, electric and haunting." — Mark Anthony Jarman
"In language subtle and fluid as brush strokes, 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
Pub date: May 4, 2012