Bolt From the Blue

Jeremy Cooper

Fitzcarraldo Editions 2021
A book review by Danny Yee © 2022
In 1985 Lynn Gallagher leaves her home in Birmingham to study in London at St Martins College of the Arts. She becomes a successful filmmaker and video artist, marries, acquires cats but not children — and for thirty three years continues an intermittent exchange of postcards with her mother, whom she doesn't see in person for the first half of that period. Bolt from the Blue is an epistolary novel made up of their often laconic postcard messages, augmented by the explanatory booklets from some of Gallagher's exhibitions, describing her and her work. There are also detailed descriptions of each postcard:
"[Written on a postcard of Millais' The Blind Girl, one of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the collection of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Mum may have remembered how jealous I used to be of the girl's red hair.]"

Much of the interest comes from the unfolding of Gallagher's life and the revelation of her character (and to a lesser extent her mother's). This is a lop-sided picture and a fractured one, with some messages clearly missing and others quite cryptic, and with bits and pieces of the family history revealed only decades later.

The other attraction is the setting in the avant-garde art scene in London, where most of the people Gallagher describes are real figures, people like Susan Hiller and Gilbert and George. (Her own career may be based on that of Ben Rivers, who appears in Bolt from the Blue as an artist who closely resembles her.) This is a world I know almost nothing about, but I found it involving — someone with more knowledge of this scene might appreciate more of the detail, but might also disagree with Gallagher/Cooper's often pointed judgements.

November 2022

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%T Bolt From the Blue
%A Cooper, Jeremy
%I Fitzcarraldo Editions
%D 2021
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781913097462
%P 264pp