Benjamin Wood’s beguiling, cryptic second novel The Ecliptic explores perception and memory, and—most hauntingly—how they relate to and influence art, specifically but not limited to painting. The story is told from the voice of Elspeth (or Ellie or Knell…more on that in a moment), a Scottish painter who, like most great artists, is tormented by and in love with the act of creation. As the tale switches back and forth from her initial mentoring by established painter Jim Culvers to her introduction to the vapid London art scene in the 1960s to her fateful Atlantic voyage after a unfortunate encounter with a snobby art critic, Ellie’s rise is bookended by a decade spent on a remote Mediterranean island off of Turkey where artists secretly and anonymously (hence her given name Knell) retreat to in order to focus on their various creative endeavors. The characters are colorful, the island is mysterious, and the creative process is richly rendered and detailed. You’d think Wood was a seasoned painter with his attention to detail. The story takes a dramatic turn when a young man arrives on the island who may or may not be connected to Knell in the past. As the novel progresses, the story becomes more and more dreamlike, an experience that feels more like a trance than a mystery. The Ecliptic never takes the reader to a place that is expected and it’s all the more effective for it. Wood captures not only the idiosyncrasies and insecurities of artists but, most astutely, the voice and inner life of a young female painter in the swinging London 60s. It’s a tremendous achievement for a budding author and it marks Wood a writer and artist to watch closely as he continues to evolve.
The Ecliptic: A Novel available now.