Translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth
This book is a fictionalised account of incidents from the wine-soaked latter part of the life of the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, known for his elongated, asymmetrical portraits. Modigliani settled in Paris, and died in 1920 at the age of 35; famously, upon his death his pregnant wife committed suicide, killing herself and their unborn child. I was intrigued when I unearthed the book in a charity shop, as I was looking for a work by a Bosnian author that wasn’t set during, or in the aftermath of, the conflict that ended in 1995. Not because I don’t think that a valid topic, obviously. But I figured Bosnian writers write about other things, too, although all the books I kept coming across were very war-based, and professionally I have spent enough time picking over the Bosnian conflict.
Unfortunately, there’s no other way to say this: I thought this was a terrible book. First published in 2000, and published in English translation in 2001, the book is subtitled “a mosaic novel”, which could mean a series of powerful vignettes, a kaleidoscopic tour through the mixed-up mind of a master. In this case though it just meant a disjointed mess. No doubt the pretentious ramblings are supposed to evoke the psychological fracturing of the artist’s drink- and drug-addled mind, but it really didn’t work for me.
At times the book has a dark humour, and there are some occasional flashes of descriptive brilliance, but these alone are not enough to save the novel from a pervading sense of inchoate tedium. At least it was short and some of the pages were blank…