This was an enchanting book. It’s a novella length story but it had enough depth to make it a most satisfying read.
Once again this author has done what she has already proved very good at. She has taken a couple of minor characters from a previous book – in this case from Champagne for Breakfast – and told their story. And, as before, it works beautifully.
The main characters of academic Alex and former stockbroker Jack could easily have been stereotypes – however, they are far from that. Both are seeking new paths following traumatic events in their personal lives and both are rather lost and lonely. Jack, although displaying lots of masculine traits, also has a caring and gentle side – as shown, for example, by his care for his elderly clients. And Alex who is a self-sufficient, hard-working and professional university lecturer also finds time to be a good aunt to her young niece and a good friend to her elderly neighbour and to a former colleague.
But when Jack and Alex first meet it seems unlikely they’ll have any sort of romantic future together despite a reluctant attraction between them. They both have other seemingly more important things going on in their lives which suggest a relationship isn’t going to happen. And it’s this will-they-won’t they that keeps the reader hooked.
The setting of the story on Australia’s vividly described Sunshine Coast added even more interest for me as a UK reader. And as to the significance of the Brahminy in the title – well, it’s a bird – specifically, a red-backed sea-eagle of the kite family – and which is native to Australia. But you’ll have to read the book to understand its lovely, romantic significance. And I recommend that you do.
From the backcover:
Drawn together by fate, can this midlife couple find happiness?
University lecturer Alex Carter is devastated when her partner ends their long-term relationship. Accepting a position at a university on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she plans to spend time with her family, renovate her beach cottage and forget all about men.
But, as she is making a new life for herself, the past rises up to throw a spanner in the works and she has to make a determined effort to reset her compass.
Shocked by a colleague’s suicide, Jack Russo leaves his high-powered city career and travels north, settling in a coastal town in an attempt to simplify his life. Yet, even here, he discovers, everything isn’t what it seems. When his fledgling handyman business appears to be in danger of collapsing, he is forced to make some hard decisions.
A feel-good story of discovering that there can be second chances if only you can learn to trust again.
A Brahminy Sunrise will be published as an ebook on 15th January 2019 and it can be pre-ordered here if you’re in the UK or from the online store local to you.
I received a free ARC copy of this book with no obligation to review.
This novel is contemporary literary fiction at its best. It has humanity, emotion and a great story at its heart.
From the back cover: It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.
It will take courage to learn how to live again.
For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.
Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.
If only it were that simple.
Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of fiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art. Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.
This is a wonderful book. It has resonances with real life disasters and what happens afterwards. It’s a tribute to the human capacity to survive and heal and to the power of love that endures after death.
The story deals with the aftermath of an accident on an escalator on the London Underground. It tells of the traumatic effects on some of the victims and their loved ones. The author gradually draws you into each character’s story and she does it with such sympathy, empathy and insight that it makes for a gripping and emotional read. I liked how the grieving process was so honestly portrayed as messy and unpredictable and, at times, all-consuming. The characters couldn’t move on while they waited years for the revised official ruling into what caused the accident. But then even after that happens, comes the realisation that grief doesn’t conveniently stop. And this is portrayed quite beautifully.
This intriguing story is told not just from the point of view of the police investigating the crime at its heart, but also from the point of view of those involved in that incident. So we get the police procedural side and the complex human side as well. And it all adds up to an intriguing read.
The story opens with a life-changing accident that leads to Jenna, the main (civilian) character, leaving her life in Bristol and going to live in a remote coastal area of Wales. The author uses the wildness of the new landscape to good effect in reflecting Jenna’s state of mind. The clifftops, the beaches and the countryside are made easy for the reader to visualise.
The characters are well drawn too. Jenna herself, with her combination of strength and frailty is a very sympathetic lead. The police characters of DI Ray Stevens and DC Kate Evans are also presented as complex, real and all too human. I liked the background story of Ray’s home life and its stresses although I wasn’t entirely convinced by his act of infidelity. The supporting cast of characters who befriend Jenna in her new life in Wales were likeable and convincing and that includes Beau the dog. The villain is also excellently portrayed––shocking, chilling and very scary.
The plot moves between Jenna’s story and the progress––or not––of the police investigation. There’s Jenna’s grief, guilt and fear that haunts her from the past and the hope of new life and love in the future. And there are the pressures of modern policing, the need to get quick results and move on for the sake of politics and the stress this causes for the detectives on this difficult to solve case. There’s the obligatory red herring and twist, but spoilers prevent me saying any more on that score.
All the intricacies of character, plot and setting are well handled by the author and it all adds up to a first-class read.
Type of Read: Don’t read in bed at night if you a) want to sleep afterwards, b) want to put the light out at a reasonable time. Do read when you’ve plenty time. You’ll probably want to binge read it as it’s a true page turner – so plenty tea and biscuits, or wine and chocolate to hand. Great holiday read.
Back Cover Blurb:
A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she? In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .
I Let You Gois published by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown. It is available as an e-book, paperback and in audio format.
A brave, poignant, fascinating book. Tom Lubbock was a writer, illustrator and art critic. He died of a brain tumour in 2011. ‘Until Further Notice I Am Alive’ (Granta Books) is his account of his life post diagnosis.
A horribly ironic twist in the nature of his tumour was where it was situated in his brain. It was in an area that controls language. So he gradually lost control of speaking and writing. But that did not prevent him recording the progress of the disease during the last three years of his life.
The resulting memoir is quite beautiful. It’s never depressing, gloomy or self-pitying. Lubbock is unflinching in the face of mortality and there’s something very reassuring for the reader in his acceptance of the fact of death – his and one’s own. It’s a study in living and dying with dignity.
Lubbock’s loss of words is, in the end, no barrier to his ability to communicate.
There is little else I can say about this book other than read it.
‘Once Upon A Time In A Gallery’ is the latest online exhibition of writing, art and music from the Eight Cuts gallery.
The press release for the exhibition, puts the exhibition in context and is contained in the post immediately before this one. It should be read before reading my review.
I have two tales of my own in the exhibition – I’ve not reviewed them.
The central theme for the exhibition was to consider and develop fairy tales for the twenty-first century. All the exhibitors did this in their own way and style. Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. However, there are several items that are suitable for children and adults alike. All of it is impressive and though- provoking. And I think curator, Dan Holloway, has again produced a stunning and original collection of work. His energy, commitment and vision are what make the gallery the very special online place that it is.
Below are my personal responses to all the exhibits. The exhibition is organised into fifteen ‘rooms’, as is my review. I hope you feel able to visit the exhibition at http://eightcuts.com/ either before or after reading my review. Please consider leaving comments on the Eight Cuts site and/or here.
The music can be heard at www.myspace.com/eightcutsgallery – my favourites were Sana Raeburn’s ‘Saffire Drake Theme’ and ‘Dreams’ –both were dreamy and haunting.
INTO THE WOODS
Going ‘Into the Woods’ seemed like a good start point for the walk through this exhibition. It was a disturbing beginning. Two very powerful poems here – ‘Missionary Position’ by Rohini Soni and ‘TheWizard and I’ by Sarah Melville.
Rohini’s is the darkest of the dark. The tone is reverent, the content is horrifying and terrifying – and, one can only hope, cathartic for the reader.
Sarah’s is also disturbing and dark. The wizard is an ambivalent character – friend or foe? The defiant narrator always seems in danger of a comeuppance, but also seems to be in control. And then there’s the disintegration of the text – mirroring the children’s song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ where as it’s sung the body parts are no longer named – in a one at a time progressive disappearance until there are no words left – only action. This is an inspired device – nodding in the direction of children’s poetry/song for much more adult purposes. Brilliant!
A LONG, LONG TIME AGO
‘A Long, Long Time Ago’ is an ironic label for this part of the walk. Both Marc Nash and JS Watts take a modern perspective on traditional tales in two very different pieces of writing.
Marc’s piece, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Peter Schlemi,’ reads like part academic thesis and part excoriating critique. It’s clever and very demanding of the reader. He seems to lament the loss of the oral tradition – something that I see as very much alive and well. And it was the (to us) facile simplicity and formulaic approach that meant the traditional fairy tales could be easily retold and translated across language and culture. The time had to be non-specific and the themes universal – i.e. love, fear, survival, hope.
But while my view is not so bleak as Marc’s, I do admire the keen wit and intelligence and the surgical incisiveness that Marc brings to his tale. There’s no resolution, no redemption but it’s a highly moral tale. And above all it is sly and engaging storytelling. Awesome.
JS Watt’s ‘Tidal Flow’ has a saga feel to it. It is lore, it is symbolic – a nod in Beowulf’s direction in some ways. It’s laden with symbolism and the language is beautiful. The modernity contained in it flows easily through the mythic structure. There is, too, the flow of time through the whole piece. There is a recognition of where society is now – but also that there’s no start or end point to the themes and narrative contained here. A rich, poetic and lyrical tale of where we are now and there’s no going back. ‘After Dark’ – after dark comes the light and in the case of these two tales – enlightenment. I LOVED them both.
After dark comes the light, and, in the case of these two tales – enlightenment. I LOVED them both.
‘The Littlest Dream’ by Eric Laing – WOW! It has an oral-story telling quality and a flawless rhythm. It’s intriguing from the start and will appeal to adults and children, but, perhaps, on different levels. It’s reminiscent of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ but – it’s not a mere reworking. It’s MUCH more than that. Tup, the mysterious little creature who is the secret helper is a marvellous creation.
There is humour and pathos. I loved the description of one of the inferior, counterfeit dolls as a ‘cycloptic Ruttleby’.
And the ending is very effective and affecting – no ‘happy ever after’ but moments of insight for Tuttleby, Tup and the reader into the nature of love and what really matters.
‘The Ephemeral Man’ by Heikki Hietala is simple and BEAUTIFUL. It has everything a tale of this sort should have. It has lyricism, and, again, a rhythm that lends itself to being spoken aloud. It’s life-affirming, wise and insightful. There is, one hopes, a happy ever afterlife for Omar and peace in this life for Mashood. A WONDERFUL tale.
AT THE WATER’S EDGE
‘At the Water’s Edge’ holds a poetically fluid trio. ‘The River’ by Cody James is the dark and gruesome tale of Mylene. The story has some classic elements – Mylene walks in a forbidden place, she pricks her finger, there’s a spinning wheel and a handsome but treacherous young man. The style of the telling is also classic fairytale. But this is Cody James writing. She sheds the skin from off the form, takes in the guts and remakes it. It’s brilliant, layered, original and perfect.
‘Said the Sea Witch’ by Kirsty Logan is poetry with incredible imagery. It’s a warning to be careful what you wish for and it’s a dream that turns to a nightmare. There is no happy ending – because beneath the imagery is an all too often nasty truth – the happy ending is often just a false dawn. This piece is short but says so much. Fabulous.
‘Hexing the Sexing’ by Penny Goring – the language drips, spurts, gushes and flows – it thrusts and it yields. It’s pure Penny. It’s ENTRANCING and clever and I clapped at the end.
Sarah Spencer’s pictures in this part of the exhibition require you to stop and stare. They show terribly damaged beauty, and perfection that is horribly flawed. I saw all sorts of human fears represented in these faces just as they are in fairy tales.
‘Embers’ pictures by Shannon Moran – The embers of what? And whose fairytale? The pictures are provocative in that they provoke a strong reaction – well they did in this viewer. Several emotions and thoughts.
Shock – not in a prudish, outraged sense – just the shock of the unexpected. Fascination – with the beauty, with the poses, with the stories and the possibilities.
Amusement – a suspicion of subversion
Admiration – for the skill – of photographer and subject
Wonder -at the relationship between photographer, subject and viewer
Embers of old ideas of power and dominance in sexual relationships and the spark of a new dynamic?
A re-imagining and re-imaging of who and what a fairytale is for?
FAR NOT SO FAR AWAY
‘Far Not So Far Away’ – A tale set in a not too distant and scary future, a saga of unsatisfiable and blinkered desire and a Norse myth, form this trio of exhibits. Here the reader is confronted by legends from the past and warnings of what may be to come. The tone of all three urges us to listen and resist the temptation and corruption which could/will lead to our downfall.
‘Connected’ by Roland Denning – WOW! There’s a 1884 ish vibe here. The story’s set in a technologically controlled world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy, between sanity and madness are blurred, to say the least. It’s cleverly written and intriguing from the start. There is a feeling of menace throughout. This is Big Brother become Big Daddy – a warning of something that is terribly possible if we continue to give away our liberties so lightly and allow ouselves to be hypnotised by weasel words and celebrity. A SUPERB story.
‘The King and the Star’ by Harriet Goodchild has the feel of an oral story that would be told around a campfire. It’s gripping. There’s a young man on a quest to be king, a slaying, an infatuation, a flight for freedom. It’s bleak, Beautiful and sad. The imagery is visually rich – you’ll gasp. SPELLBINDING story telling.
‘Voluspa’ 11 by Sana Raeburn – seems to me to be based on the actual Norse Myth – tale told by the eponymous character. It takes in other elements of myths from the same time and place and the writer creates something new and fresh and FABULOUS. It also calls ‘Lord of the Rings’ to mind. It’s a technically brilliant telling of a Creation and Fall tale. Great writing.
HAPPY EVER AFTER
‘Happy Ever After’ is definitely not the case in the first story here, it’s ambiguous in the second but it happens in the third.
‘The Lake of Swans’ by Quenntis Ashby is, as you might guess, reminiscent of the story of Swan Lake. It’s also no surprise that the author is also a dancer. It is a terrible, brutal tale. The pain of the main character reflects a dancer’s painfully broken body. There is the idealisation of the ballerina character and her objectification. There is pain, fear, torture and death. The powerless woman is the then the victim of a bungled rescue. Beauty is a curse and death is a release. There is no happy ending but there is escape. This is a bleak reflection and reworking of a traditional tale. It is beautifully written and very disturbing.
‘The So White Woods’ by Alison Wells – Many of the traditional elements are here, apples, a picnic, a basket of food, the woods, a huntsman, a dark haired beauty. But the story is totally modern. The female protagonist is a drugged, date-raped unwitting participant in a grotesque reality show. I loved the title of the show – ‘Celebrity get me out of the White Woods’ and the clever observations, such as the narrative retort of ‘was there never a sentiment in the singular?’. The author takes our vacuous, rapacious, celebrity obsessed culture to its logical conclusion and makes a bitingly satirical and witty story. BRILLIANT!
‘The Mermaid’s Dream’ by Marija Fekete-Sullivan is a gorgeous, fabulous fable – definitely a tell/read aloud. It’s one for adults and children. It’s rich in symbolism and has a strong moral heart. The language is beautiful. The ending is satisfying. LOVELY!
Helga Hornung’s mermaid picture is a perfect accompaniment to the above story, with its jewel colours and peaceful, loving feel.
IN A CASTLE ON A HILL
‘The Princess and the Ogre’ by Richard Dowling is absolutely Brilliant! This works on so many levels. Clever, entertaining, knowing, sly, funny, easy to read but with a strong moral thread – and the punchline TREMENDOUS. A fantastic tale for older children and adults alike.
LET DOWN YOUR HAIR
‘Red’ by Paul Freeman – You’ll gasp – ‘oh no! It can’t stop there!’ Beautifully written – scaffolded onto the traditional version of the Red Riding Hood tale -a terrific parable – leaves the reader speculating. Great stuff.
‘Amadan na Briona’ by Sessha Batto This is strong, powerful, disturbing stuff. It provoked a strong reaction in this reader as it is much more sexually graphic than the stuff I normally read. However that is not a criticism, it’s an observation about this reader. And of course in traditional tales sexual desires and love are one of the main drivers – their power is hinted at – here it is explicit.
The story is beautifully written and crafted. The Amadan is a well-known figure in Gaelic myth (Irish and Scots) but this reworking was absolutely original and very clever. There was also clever use of many of the staple ingredients of traditional fairytales. And the moral thread was strong and subtle. Impressive.
‘The Rental Heart’ by Kirsty Logan – A sad tale of broken hearts – the opposite of the traditional ‘happy ever after’. It says so much about our still very idealised views and expectations of romantic love, our emotional illiteracy and our self-absorption. It’s bleak, touching and full of insight. An original take and a first-class telling.
‘Letter to Juliet’ by Mao the Poet – Superb – love the conversational, unpretentious tone. Thank goodness, there are no straight lines – that’s what makes life so surprising and art and love so invigorating – as here.
THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
‘When Good Moms do Bad Things’ by Robert Dean – Painfully true – the potential for self-destruction and detachment that is part of our human nature is graphically portrayed here. A disturbing, honest and original take on the flawed notion of a fairytale existence. Happiness here is a serpent – a life with no challenge offers no contentment or peace. ‘Happy ever after’ is a poisoned chalice. Excellent ‘beware’ story.
‘Bonnie Dormant’ by Anne Stormont – who? Modesty forbids… J
THE PRINCESS IN THE TOWER
‘Partners in Crime’ by Peter S Brooks – I’d no idea where this story was going but was hooked from the off. It’s certainly no fairytale. The writing is sharp – I loved the description of Lindsay’s anxiety – her ‘shipwrecked consciousness’ -brilliant. Yes, the twist is maybe too much of a coincidence – but, hey – it’s a parable. Original and engaging.
‘The Secret Dairy of Alice in Wonderland age 42 and Three-Quarters’ by Barbara Silkstone is I suspect this is part of a longer work – a novel perhaps? It’s excellent, witty writing – great style and characterisation. I wanted more.
TILTING AFTER DRAGONS
‘We Were making Fairytales’ by Katelan Foisy – is a small set of photos and handwritten notes. I kept going back to the pictures and the little notes. Sadness and waste and yearning.
Pictures worth a thousand words.
WHAT BIG EYES YOU HAVE
‘Get Real’ by Michelle Brenton – I LOVE this funny, witty, clever rap from a modern Cin – go girl!
‘The Owl’s Lament’ by Patrick Whitaker – an original take on the Lear rhyme with a nod to Romeo and Juliet. BRILLIANT, clever, knowing, subversive – PERFECT.
Great pics in this section from Sarah Snell-Pym and Shannon Moran.
‘Scarlet Hood’ – you may say it’s genius – I couldn’t possibly comment – J
Oli John’s book, ‘Charcoal’, due to be published by Eight Cuts on November 1st, could be shelved along with the work of Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Sartre, but it’s probably best placed alongside Camus in the absurdist section. However, it’s also genre-defying. It’s literary certainly. It’s possibly, at least partly, autobiographical. It’s contemporary, erotic, noir, ironic. I can’t define it – it defies defining. JUST READ IT. As with all ‘good’ art, it requires active engagement and there will be as many interpretations as there are readers.
But I’ll do my best to give you some idea of what to expect.
First some personal background – so you know what I brought to my reading of the book.
I’ve suffered two bouts of depression – the first was post-natal and the second was post-cancer. Both occurred at times when I ‘should’ have been happy – after all, in the first instance, I had a new baby daughter and the second time, my cancer had just been confirmed as in remission. Both bouts were due to a combination of biology and life-changing/threatening events. I was fortunate to receive appropriate medication and therapy. I recovered.
Mental illness is as life-threatening a disease as cancer.
I’m also sure even the most mentally robust and least introspective of people have moments where life seems meaningless or they feel worthless. It’s also part of our human frailty to doubt ourselves. Those of us who are kept purposefully busy enough, who have a network of supportive people and have reasonable levels of self-esteem, mostly manage to keep on keeping on. Good physical health, a family to raise, a rewarding job, an absorbing hobby, a loving partner, loyal friends and a curiosity about what life still holds – any one of these things can help us to keep fear and stress at bay.
BUT what if our minds get sick? What if the job is unbearable, or the people who should care about us don’t, or we find ourselves despicable? What if all that toxicity unravels us? Or what if we succumb to biological and chemical changes that upset our moods, emotions and rationality? How do we cope with daily life and its pressures? How do we find our way back? How do we get healed?
“It is/was like that for me too” – surely amongst the most reassuring and moving words a person can hear. They’re a marker of recognition, affirmation, shared humanity. And if the speaker has since recovered from whatever ‘that’ was, then they are words of hope to the vulnerable.
And sometimes ‘insanity’ is the only sane response to an insane world.
Reading the inner monologue of the narrator of ‘Charcoal’ led me to many intense, sometimes painful, moments of recognition, and I wanted to tell him “it was like that for me too” – to offer hope.
This is a brilliant account of an unravelling personality. The charcoal of the title refers to using the substance as a method of suicide – i.e. by burning it in a confined space so that it uses up all the oxygen.
The story is told by a first-person narrator in the present tense. Author and narrator are both called Oli – but the question of how fictional the tale is, is an open one.
The text is mainly single lines and sentences. The effect is intense and claustrophobic. The prose is hypnotic; the atmosphere sombre and fearful and the tone self-deprecating – right from the off with the apparent ‘quotes’ about the book.
The reader is forced to put logic and rationality to one side and to just ‘be’ with the narrator and see things as he sees them.
At the beginning, Oli, the narrator – a stressed out, burnt out teacher who’d rather be a writer – is living alone and working in Hong Kong. He’s considering methods of suicide – even going so far as to experiment with the charcoal method in a hotel room. Then the story jumps forward a year and gets progressively darker. The narrator becomes increasingly paranoid, psychotic and disorientated. He cannot cope with his teaching job or relate to his colleagues. He becomes fixated on a Korean model who has committed to suicide. Even although she’s already dead he believes he can save her. She becomes real to him. She moves in with him for a time before disappearing and then reappearing throughout the narrative.
He is also obsessed with existential philosophy. He tussles with the work of Bergson and Deleuze – with concepts of time and theories of personality. After all, if you can get your head round, and go with the theories of these guys – abandon Newtonian laws and take the Einstein quantum view – then the possibilities are infinite. If time is merely movement and not a one way track – then maybe Oli can save the model. And maybe Oli can just ‘be’ – no cause, no effect, no regrets, no recriminations, no dread.
As for Oli’s writing, he wants success yet he also fears it. He wants recognition but is desperately scared of exposing himself to criticism and failure. He ponders upon the plight of writers who peak with one great (often the first and sometimes their only) novel. He thinks particularly of Fitzgerald and the ‘The Great Gatsby’. He realises that achieving success can be double-edged – because having achieved it – what’s the point in continuing to strive? He refers to Camus’ assertion that life’s about the rebellion and not the revolution. But it’s not the answer he’s seeking – because what if he never finishes anything, never has any success – that would be depressing and depression leads to…
And so it goes.
The book raises all the big questions – questions of core identity – is there even such a thing? It’s life, death and the whole damn thing. There are no pat or trite answers.
It’s a slim volume – a novella really – but has the scope and feel of a much larger work. The author is fearless in his honesty about the human condition and our potential for self-destruction – the reader has to admit – yeah, I’ve had these what if moments too, moments of reckless fascination – what if I just jump in front of the train, let go of the rope?
The flashes of humour and of hope – such as the graffiti episode where he asserts that ‘real art is not presented but found’, the admissions of weakness – for example when he admits to just wanting something simple to read – all add a bit of warmth to what is often a bleak landscape.
Reading this book, you may also long for something simpler – BUT – you’ll probably find you can’t put it down either. It stays with you, calls you back, forces you to take a look at yourself, forces you to accept there are more questions than answers, that control is an illusion and the only constant is change.
This is glorious writing – Camus with added warmth and humanity and a dash of uncertainty, philosophy wrapped in and woven through ‘real’ life. In the end Oli has to accept he can’t save the Korean model from herself. He also admits he doesn’t know where he’s going – none of us do – and everything in life, as in art, is open to interpretation. But the important thing is he IS going on and the reader can only wish him well. Perhaps, as Camus said, meaning in life is to be found through simple persistence.
Johns is an incredibly talented writer – gifted not only with the required depth of insight and self-awareness that is vital for any artist but also with enough humility to be an excellent communicator. What you make of ‘Charcoal’ will be down to your effort and interpretation – as with any work of art. All I can guarantee is that it will be worth the effort.