Shadow is a Colour (as Light is) is an admirably ambitious debut by Michael Langan. It’s comprised of interconnected stories that span the globe, from Hong Kong to Liverpool to New York to Paris, and timelines, shuttling back and forth through 1869 to 2013. With these multiple narratives Langan has created a book that explores father-and-son relationships, desire, loss, creativity and whether art can truly impact on our lives.
Our characters on this journey include a Hong Kong billionaire and his estranged, reclusive son, a closeted gay Hollywood star and his Liverpudlian director partner and a deeply troubled contemporary artist and Paul Cézanne. It is the paintings of the latter that, in one form or another, stitch these characters’ multiple narratives so skillfully together.
Indeed, the chapters featuring Cézanne, first in Paris and then in Aix-en-Provence, are some of the most persuasive, to the extent I wondered if there might be another novel to come featuring only the brilliant and misunderstood Cézanne.
His grasp of sensory detail is so strong that, as a reader you are fully immersed, whether it’s in art, food, sex, Hong Kong, New York or Liverpool
In other hands these weighty themes, along with a complex structure and the clearly rigorous research Langan has undertaken, might have felt overworked or overwrought, but this is a story with more light than shadow, ensuring an extremely compelling, enjoyable read.
Langan has a particular skill for capturing the unique voices of his many characters with a natural wry humour. His grasp of sensory detail is so strong that, as a reader you are fully immersed, whether it’s art, food, sex, Hong Kong, New York or Liverpool.
Running through this is a clear passion for art and an insightful understanding of the human heart, and what it desires. ‘Shadow is a Colour (as Light is)’ is a truly beautiful read and, as with the best of books, I felt grateful to have spent time in its richly realised world.