Editor-in-Chief Lauren Grzina reviews an evocative novel about the Australian art scene and the tumultuous relationship between two artists.
My first introduction to Girl In A Pink Dress was being told it was partially written while the author, Kylie Needham, was doing her Masters of Creative Writing
here at Macquarie University. As someone who also studies creative writing at Macquarie University, I was immediately intrigued that this novel was about the Australian art scene.
I have since read this book twice. First as a physical book, then as an audiobook. Both were gifted to me by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review, so I’ll be talking about both here.
This novel is about Frances, the former lover of Clem Hughes, an esteemed painter—and her former professor. Frances, although an artist herself, becomes a muse for Clem. Frances’ story is told over two timelines. The present, where she lives in a remote mountain town, currently contemplating an invitation from Clem to come to his latest exhibit. As well as the past, where we see start to end Frances’ relationship with Clem.
The first thing I noticed about this book is its length. It’s quite short: the physical book is only 200 pages, and the audiobook is about four and half hours. But this story is so enrapturing and the writing so immersive that I didn’t feel like I was missing any details or action, its brevity was barely noticed. Needham’s minimal writing carries so much careful description and thoughtful dialogue; this bite-sized novel feels as heavy and potent as a longer one. Needham cuts down to the very bones of the story and delivers to the reader only the necessary details and nothing more.
In addition to its minimal writing, Girl in a Pink Dress has a small cast of characters, whose lives and dispositions we get full pictures of. Considering the length of this novel, a short list of characters is perfect, and helps keep the story’s simplicity.
I feel the assessment I was given for this book being about ‘the Australia art scene’ was a reserved view. In so few pages this story tackles so many more ideas and themes than that of the Aussie art world. Several threads appear and reappear throughout this story, including motherhood, feminism—particularly women’s place in the world and the art scene and finally, love and relationships. The exploration of these themes helps keep the story rich, despite its minimalism.
Often with stories, the ending can fall flat, as it doesn’t live up to expectations or build to what you were hoping for. The ending of Girl in A Pink Dress, however, I found to be spectacular. I had no idea how this story was going to end, but I was not disappointed and enthralled onto the last page.
As an audiobook, I really enjoyed it as well. The voice was different to what I originally imagined for Frances. However, the narrator delivered each line with perfect emphasis, making listening just as enjoyable an experience as reading it.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and devoured it quickly both times. If you’re looking to sink your teeth into some contemporary Australian literature, this heartfelt read may be the perfect novel for you.
Rating: 4.5 stars