All the Days and Nights by Niven Govinden: Attentive reading and its rewards

Cover imageThis is not an easy book to write about, nor to read. Short it may be, but it’s dense and its style takes a little getting used to but if you’re prepared to make the effort it pays dividends. Narrated by Anna Brown, a celebrated portrait painter, it begins with a cry of anguish at the disappearance of John – husband, lover and the subject of many of her paintings. Anna has told her housekeeper that John is merely in town picking up art supplies but she knows that this is no short absence. Slowly – sometimes in vibrant word pictures, sometimes obliquely – a picture of John and the life they have lived together emerges through Anna’s memories and imaginings.

Driven and obsessive, always the observer never the participant, Anna is treated with suspicion in their local town. Much beloved by the townspeople, John’s openness and conviviality smooths the way for her. These two seem an odd pairing but their relationship has lasted decades. Now frail and dying but refusing to admit it, Anna looks back over their time together finally acknowledging the price John has paid, his dedication to her work, his joy in life and his sorrow in tragedy. John, it seems, has decided to visit her portraits of him, attempting to see what others see when they look at Anna’s work.

Niven Govinden’s exploration of creativity, obsession and the relationship between art and life Cover imageis compelling.  In a convincing depiction of the bond between artist and sitter, Anna’s steely determination to paint – or perhaps her overwhelming need – is matched by John’s dedication, his patience and sacrifice in bowing to her demands. In terms of length this is a novella rather than a novel but don’t expect a quick read – it’s a book that requires attentive reading.

When I was reading All the Days and Nights I was reminded of The Man with a Blue Scarf which I read a few years ago. It’s a chronological account of the seven months art critic Martin Gayford spent sitting for Lucien Freud but it’s also Gayford’s first-hand view of watching an artist work. It’s as if Freud was sitting for a word portrait while painting Gayford’s in oils. I found it fascinating and highly recommend it.

9 thoughts on “All the Days and Nights by Niven Govinden: Attentive reading and its rewards”

    1. For Anna, so entirely wrapped up in her work, it takes a lifetime to take that step making it all the more affecting, I think.

  1. Completely with you about the Martin Gayford book – it’s wonderful. I love the premise of Niven Govinden’s novel, although I haven’t done terribly well with books about artists in the past (John Updike’s one whose title escapes me comes to mind). I might have to give it a go, though.

    1. Govinden does have that American literary style to a tee – so much so that I was astonished to find he was British – but not in an Updike kind of way. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything by him or his cohorts in the Great White American Novelist brigade.

  2. Pingback: All the Days and Nights by Niven Govinden | JacquiWine's Journal

  3. Just dropped back to read your review now that I’ve posted my thoughts! The narrative style is quite unusual and yet very interesting. There’s something very compelling about Anna’s voice, and it really pulled me into the story.

    1. What I didn’t say is that Govinden writes in a very literary American voice. I did a double-take when I realised he was British.

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