Since the death of her best friend Grace, twenty-six-year-old Eve has learned to keep everything and everyone at arm’s length. Safe in her detachment, she scrapes along waiting tables and cleaning her shared flat in exchange for cheap rent, finding solace in her small routines.
But when a chance encounter at work brings her past thundering into her present, Eve becomes consumed by painful memories of Grace. And soon her precariously maintained life begins to unravel: she loses her job, gets thrown out of her flat, and risks pushing away the one decent man who cares about her.
Taking up life-modelling to pay the bills, Eve lays bare her body but keeps hidden the mounting chaos inside her head. When her self-destructive urges spiral out of control, she’s forced to confront the traumatic event that changed the course of her life, and to finally face her grief and guilt.
Thank you very much to Alex at Orion for sending me a proof copy of Wet Paint in exchange for an honest review.
I love it when you start reading a debut novel and know straight away that this is a writer you’ll want to read more from. There’s a tingling excitement that comes from discovering a new voice, and from the opening pages of Wet Paint, I was all in.
Eve is a complicated, frustrating, endlessly fascinating protagonist, and watching her negotiate the haze of 20-something life is an engrossing experience. It’s all there – the bad decisions, the quickly-formed friendships, the drunken nights, the blurred boundaries between making choices and stumbling into the dark. It feels raw and real, and brought back the vivid feelings of that time in my life.
For Eve, of course, she is also wrestling with a deep grief, one that taints everything whether she realises it or not. I loved the flashbacks of Eve and Grace – that level of friendship that I think only exists at that specific time, when you can spend hours and hours together, day after day, becoming closer than lovers, closer than siblings. It’s beautifully depicted. I liked that in many ways the relationship between Eve and Grace is the centre of the novel – there is a love interest, Max, and he’s wonderful (I had a book crush) but Ashby doesn’t let the romance storyline take over. I think it’s very cleverly done – a nice reminder that there is so much more to life.
The connection Eve feels with the Manet painting she visits, and the artistic themes explored when she becomes a life model, add another layer of interest to an already multi-faceted book. And yet, despite heavy themes of grief and art, there is a light touch here, a humour and a readability that reminded me of Meg Mason’s brilliant novel Sorrow and Bliss. And, as the novel reaches its dramatic climax, there are thriller-ish touches, a rising tension that honestly had me frightened to read on, and put me in mind of Magpie by Elizabeth Day.
This is one of those books you want to race through and savour at the same time: a taut, fresh, emotional story that envelops you in its reality while you’re reading, and leaves you thinking about its themes and characters for a long time afterwards. I can’t wait to read more by this talented author.