“Pure color!” wrote Paul Gauguin to his wife, Mette, from the South Seas. “Everything must be sacrificed to it.” He told her about his paintings, his infidelities and his “bastard children.” Mette, stationed in Denmark to care for their own children, already knew what it meant to sacrifice. In Off Island, novelist Lara Tupper images that Gauguin—chasing new light, new color—ran away to a new island, a rugged outpost off the coast of Maine.
There, Gauguin—drunken, flirtatious, weary of his own compulsions—watches the light and his landlady. He sees the uneasy coexistence of the resident fishermen and the artists from “off island.” He leaves behind some paintings and letters—stolen by his lover—and maybe a child.
A hundred years later, another Maine painter, Pete, finds himself drawn to these familiar compulsions and torn between his muses—the sturdy, reliable Molly and the unhappy, peripatetic Karla, who promises to take him to other, newer islands.
As Gauguin considers his return, Pete yearns for escape. Mette and Molly, left behind, perceive what their husbands, still blinded by colors on canvas, are unable to see.
With wry humor and clear-eyed precision, Tupper captures the lure of the unknown, the pull of the familiar and the strangers our loved ones turn out to be. A novel of love and disappointment, duty and wanderlust, Off Island questions what it means to be loyal to one’s art, one’s family and one’s home.
Disclosure: I live in ‘Bay Harbor’ and know Lara and her family. You might think this would prejudice me in favor of her, but it does not. I’m a writer and a well-read author. I know the value of the red pen of critique. Less than a quarter way through ‘Off Island’ I thought, “There is something about this book that reminds me of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce.” It took three tries for me to get through ‘Ulysses’, but when I did–with the help of Audible–I realized Joyce was a genius. When I got deeper into Tupper’s book, I learned that her lead character is a ‘Ulysses’ fan. This confirmed my suspicion of Joyce as an influence in the author’s life, and of my assessment of his being an influence on her writing which deepened my estimation and admiration of Tupper’s already excellent writing. If you love Maine, or if you just love good writing, and a story well told, you’ll be pleased with this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed Off Island. Wow! It’s gritty and beautiful–a hard act to pull off, and Lara Tupper does. The descriptions are so real, particularly the ever-present smells which are especially challenging to “translate” into words, that the presence of Paul Gauguin on a Maine island seems to be history brought to life, rather than story. Others write here about the book’s engaging plot which explores an enticing mystery as well as difficulties of living with an artist (two, actually) who share eccentricities that may or may not be illnesses. I’m not always happy with conclusions—after all, they leave readers with no more to read—but this book comes to a satisfying end.
Here is a wonderful book that I couldn’t put down. It’s different than anything I’ve ever read. Lara Tupper is a writing professor and a musical performer and I’ve met her in two of her writing classes. This book is daringly imaginative and richly detailed. It immediately took me back to all my visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Gaugin section of his paintings, but then it takes a turn that parrallels Gaugins life that I wont reveal here. I’m now going to share it with a voracious- reader friend. As you can see, I highly recommend this book.
Lara’s new novel, Off Island, is a deft study in crisp, incisive minimalism. I was struck by her use of brevity, which really put a lens on the conditions experienced by the characters. I could really sense their mood, their learning lessons, the space they inhabited, and the vibe they put off … very cinematic!
In Off Island, Lara Tupper creates an imagined history of artist Paul Gauguin, famed for his vibrant paintings from the South Seas, visiting an island off the coast of Maine. A hundred years later, a contemporary painter finds the paintings and letters Gauguin left behind and learns that maybe Gauguin also left a family in Maine. Off Island is a terrific book for anyone who enjoys fictionalized art history and historical fiction with a braided contemporary narrative.
Enjoyed this book, totally, notwithstanding my complete ignorance of the historical set up. Loved how the characters developed over the course of the story. The kind of novel where you almost forget it is fiction, and you find yourself thinking of what you might say to or about them as their personalities unfurl.
I confess I’m a fan of Lara Tupper’s writing. I read her previous novel, “A Thousand and One Nights,” and that was a page-turning tale of cruise-ship entertainers, including Karla, who makes a re-appearance in this new novel,”Off Island.” I always like a series in which we meet again people we’ve encountered in the writer’s last book. Besides that, Lara’s story in “Off Island” stands on its own as a painterly portrait of coastal Maine with indelible main characters, Pete, Molly, and Karla, whose intertwining relationships echo the past, because, yes, Paul Gauguin himself is a character, and the author interweaves past and present, giving us not one but two stories which reflect and shine a light on each other–two families, two timelines, two different worlds–yet there is a mystery at the center, shared by both, and it is the mystery of Art, which both enlightens and troubles our selves, our loved ones, and our world. I recommend this novel to all fans of good stories.
This lovely novel imagines that Paul Gauguin went to an island off the coast of Maine at the end of his life rather than to the South Seas. Mixing fact and fiction and past and present, the novel takes us inside Gauguin’s life and the reverberations of a summer in Maine. I really enjoyed the excuse to reacquaint myself with Gauguin’s work and the facts of his life as I considered new possibilities within the novel’s framework.
What a great story, that imagines towards the end of his life, Gauguin spent a summer painting on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. He has been exhiled there by his agent so he will produce some paintings to keep his family from starving. I love the way this author weaves historical fact with the fictional story, and you will COMPLETELY BELIEVE that Gauguin was on Monhegan, so compelling are her descriptions of the events there. And omg what a twist! This author brings some amazing characters to vivid life!