ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- Muriel Kemp was an infamous artist living and working in poverty in the Surry Hills of the Depression era. She died in mysterious circumstances in 1936, leaving behind an ouvre of unsettling portaits and studies that the establishment loathed. In 1992 a Wollongong nurse, Jane Cooper, comes into contact with an old harpy of a neighbour, who claims she is Muriel Kemp, and wants Jane to write her biography. Jane is repulsed and attracted in equal measure, and as Muriel tells her edited version of her life and times, the narrative switches to the past to tell another piece of her story. An evocative and deeply researched novel which recreates the grime and Bohemian glamour of the 20s and 30s, but also catches coastal city life of the 90s equally well. Lindy Jones
A story about art, murder, and making your place in history.
Whatever it was that drew me to Muriel, it wasn't her charm.
In 1992, morning sickness drives Jane to pre-dawn walks of her neighbourhood where she meets an unfriendly woman who sprays her with a hose as she passes by. When they do talk: Muriel Kemp eyes my pregnant belly and tells me if I really want to succeed, I'd get rid of the baby.
Driven to find out more about her curmudgeonly neighbour, Jane Cooper begins to investigate the life of Muriel, who claims to be a famous artist from Sydney's bohemian 1920s. Contemporary critics argue that legend, rather than ability, has secured her position in history. They also claim that the real Muriel Kemp died in 1936.
Murderer, narcissist, sexual deviant or artistic genius and a woman before her time: Who really is Muriel Kemp?