“A Change in Fashion” by Susan Gale: a stunning debut novel set in Yorkshire and Paris
“A Change of Fashion” is Susan Gale’s first novel and it’s a stunning debut. This is a heartfelt dramatic story spanning a decade, shifting from winter in England to the sun-drenched Cote d’Azur with well defined characters and evocative settings.
Susan Gale was born in Yorkshire and spent her teenage years in a small market-town at the foot of the Moors. She studied French at University and during the 1960s, experienced a year living and working in France, teaching English.
Those youthful memories of a new, carefree life in Paris must have lingered in the mind. “A Change of Fashion” is not exactly autobiographical, but her travel adventures matched with an interest in design from Biba to Chanel, her passion for fashion is now all perfect material for this fictional tale.
As she explains, “I store up pictures in my head which I draw on whenever I need to describe a place or create an atmosphere.”
They say do not judge a book by its cover. But the simple yet effective black and white image of the iconic Eiffel Tower with the silhouette of a young girl in mini skirt, heels and bobbed hair, represents the novel’s place and period perfectly.
Within a few pages, I was drawn into Holly Barton’s life and times. It’s Paris, 1967. The atmosphere is captured in precise detail, clothes, food, people, the apartment, as are the feelings of this rather naïve young girl – sheer excitement as well as nervous trepidation at the challenges ahead of her, both professional and personal.
“The mousse of asparagus soufflé was delicious, the sole in tarragon and lemon sauce exquisite and the Chateaubriand rich and succulent. White wines from the Loire gave way to deep red Bordeaux…. Throughout the meal she was constantly aware of the eyes opposite her, disconcerting, dancing with amusement at her obvious unease. ..”
The narrative is brilliantly cinematic, in fact expressed through all the senses, as the reader is taken on an emotional, time travel trip. Neatly placed flashbacks take us to rural Yorkshire in the early sixties to Holly’s family home.
“December is one of the darkest periods of her life. During the short hours of daylight the skies periodically blacken to release yet another blinding snowstorm upon the moors. Vast sweeps of white level the landscape …deep drifts block the lane from Black Ridge Farm into the town”.
Then as soon as we are comfortably settled around the Yorkshire moors, we fast forward six years to a front row seat at a Saint-Laurent fashion show:
“Holly could see Diana Vreeland chief editor of Vogue, scribbling furiously in her notebook. Jewel-coloured evening gowns in richly embroidered silks and satins, velvets and brocades followed, each one would make the fortunate wearer feel like royalty.”
Susan Gale must have done extraordinary amount of research to be able to convey the competitive work of the designers, models, fashion shows. I love the authentic “real life” ambience, mentioning Chanel, Dior, Gucci, St. Laurent, et al. The graceful gowns, the cut of a coat, shimmering silk, all come clearly into vision through the words only without a single photograph required.
As well as the backdrop of Parisian’s elite society, another essential part of the plot covers feminism, women’s emancipation for equality and the fight for change in moral attitudes.
For those who love “The Devil Wears Prada”, are fascinated by fashion, past and present, and enjoy a page-turning dramatic love story, this novel is a must read.
Reminiscent of the classic tale of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, this has a similar plot where a young, innocent girl has her life turned upside down following a brief encounter, within a rich plot of dark memories and a secret family mystery.
Gale wisely steers clear of “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotic encounters – instead, sexual feelings and quiet moments of intimacy are illustrated with gentle simplicity – to entice your own imagination.
“The time seemed too precious to lie by the pool or on the beach at Cannes. Often they set off to explore the surrounding countryside, driving up tortuous Alpine roads past orchards of peach trees, vineyards and olive groves. .. they ate outdoors in little restaurants where the midday sun shining through the vine leaves overhead dappled their clasped hands on the table-cloth. …..”
Following Holly’s painful, passionate journey from wild windswept Bronte country to the glamorous hot spots of Paris and Monte Carlo, the contrasting locations and enchanting romantic tale would surely make a magical film.
And if you want another opinion, I agree so much with this reader’s verdict.
“ I read this book in only three days – finding it difficult to put it down once I had started. It is written so well you just fall into the world (of fashion), the backgrounds of Yorkshire and Paris, and the lifestyle of the decade. And of course the love story. I can definitely recommend it.”
Publisher – Susan Gale Publishing in conjunction with WRITERSWORLD
Available from all good bookshops and on Amazon.
Beyond – Poppy Cyster: a vibrant, vivacious vision of land and sea at Flaubert Gallery, Edinburgh
This is Poppy Cyster’s first Solo exhibition at Flaubert Gallery, although an occasional sample of her work has been included in mixed shows over recent years.
The vibrantly warm palette of her paintings brings a sense of early Spring to the spacious gallery, from 7 – 19th March, 2014.
Poppy is a fine abstract landscape artist, her work inspired originally by the farm fields and coastline of the Kingdom of Fife where she was born and brought up.
It was here that she enjoyed the exciting experience of flying in an aircraft with her father, a Pilot, observing scenic views from 2,000 feet above the ground. Her precisely patterned images depict the aerial views and sky high photographs of the landscape.
In this new collection of paintings, entitled Beyond, there are several series on a similar theme such as Summer Shores – charming small canvases illustrating white clouds with a splash of sea-blue.
Another group is Saunter in the Salt Air, brilliantly brash colourful scenes with streaks of lemon yellow and splashes of golden sand. The viewer is immediately drawn into this virtual place, as if walking along the beach with the artist. You can almost smell the fresh salty air.
Cyster uses an ingenious artistic style which combines both constrained block shapes but also oozes energy and free flowing colour. Every landscape captures the horizon in a different manner, where some pictures illustrate a huge, spreading expanse of cloudy sky or alternatively it’s the earth, perhaps distant hills or towering cliffs, which take prominence.
Chasing Shadows brings a more dramatic mood to a coastal viewpoint through shafts of rainbow ribbons, painterly textures and tones of shifting light. Elsewhere there are dark thunderous clouds, silvery mist and streaks of rain – the ever-changing geography of land and weather.
To complement the exterior outdoors, the exhibition also shows a few of her Still Life pieces, quiet, interior domestic images of wine glasses or vase of flowers, again tackled in a semi abstract style.
From pale sunrise to stormy days, Poppy Cyster illustrates her unique aerial perspective of the gentle countryside and wild seascapes with an imaginative eye. These distinctive, dynamically structured landscapes in turn make us view the world in a fresh light.
As she describes her approach to art in her own words …
“ I pay tribute to the multiple layers in the landscape, many of which cannot be seen from below yet have added their mark over the centuries …. somehow adding to the history of the piece. I like to paint in snapshots … as they add a spontaneous element to the compositions.”
Flaubert Gallery, 74 St. Stephen Street, Edinburgh EH3 5 AQ
t. 0131 225 5007. www.flaubertgallery.com