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All the Colour in the World: A Novel

by CS Richardson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
437588,567 (3.64)5
The story of the restorative power of art in one man's life, set against the sweep of the twentieth century--from Toronto in the '20s and '30s, through the killing fields of World War II, to 1960s Sicily. "Bold and resplendent. . . .  Leave it to CS Richardson to find a way to paint with words." --Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid Henry, born 1916, thin-as-sticks, nearsighted, is an obsessive doodler--copying illustrations from his Boy's Own magazines. Left in the care of a nurturing, Shakespeare-quoting grandmother, eight-year-old Henry receives as a gift his first set of colouring pencils (and a pocket knife for the sharpening). As he commits these colours to memory--cadmium yellow; burnt ochre; deep scarlet red--a passion for art, colour, and the stories of the great artists takes hold, and becomes Henry's unique way of seeing the world. It is a passion that will both haunt and sustain him on his journey through the century: from boyhood dreams on a summer beach to the hothouse of art academia and a love cut short by tragedy; from the psychological wounds of war to the redemption of unexpected love. Projected against a backdrop of iconic masterpieces--from the rich hues of the European masters to the technicolour magic of Hollywood--All the Colour in the World is Henry's story: part miscellany, part memory palace, exquisitely precise with the emotional sweep of a great modern romance.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I first came across CS Richardson as the book cover designer for some of the best books printed in Canada. In a Globe and Mail article about this book he mentioned some of his favourite covers. These included [Ru] by Kim Thuy and [Galore] by Michael Crummey. Richardson added book writer to his cv in 2007 when The End of the Alphabet came out. It went on to win the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He followed that with The Emperor of Paris in 2012 but then we had to wait until 2023 for another work from him. I, of course, was anxious to read it and when it made the Giller short list I knew now was the time.

Henry was born in Toronto in 1916. His father had fought in France during World War I but was furloughed home when a piece of shrapnel severed his right arm. Henry may have been conceived on the night his father returned to his bride from overseas. In the first of tragic losses, Henry's mother died in childbirth when Henry was just five. Henry's grandmother, an Irishwoman who taught literature before she married a stone mason, looks after Henry and his sister, Bess. Although Henry's father wanted Henry to learn a trade, his grandmother, noticing that Henry was always drawing, instilled a love of art by providing pencil crayons and paper. Henry submitted a portfolio to the Fine Arts department but was turned down because his drawings lacked originality. However, one of the review panel suggested art history and Henry went on to graduate cum laude in that subject. While working as a lecturer at the university in 1940 he noticed an attractive woman in his class. Rules about faculty fraternizing with students were less stringent in those days and soon he and Alice were dating. Soon after their quick marriage Alice was killed by a motor vehicle while viewing the Christmas windows at Eaton's. In his grief, Henry decided to enlist and was sent overseas to Italy. Hardly a recommended cure for grief and depression at the best of times, Henry was beset by guilt for his part in killing a young girl although it was an accident. Years later, still guilt-stricken by the incident, he returns to Italy and finds a sort of absolution.

There are several interesting constructions in the format of this book. Sprinkled throughout Henry's story are little descriptions of works of art and artists and colours. They usually have some connection to the narrative but sometimes they are just interesting nuggets of information such as Egypt's Fourth Dynasty recipe for manufacturing blue. And each chapter is just one page or less than one page long. Think of the skill needed to convey a story in such short bursts.

I wavered between giving 4 and 4 1/2 stars for this review but settled on 4 when I compared it to several other recently read books that I gave 4 1/2 stars to and found I didn't think it had quite the depth of those books. ( )
  gypsysmom | Nov 3, 2023 |
A Novel in Vignettes
Review of the Knopf Canada hardcover edition (January 17, 2023)

All the Colour in the World was longlisted and then was announced as one of the five books shortlisted for Canada's 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize. The winner will be announced on November 13, 2023.

All the Colour in the World is a life story told in vignettes of the life of Henry, an art copyist, historian and teacher who was born in Toronto, Canada in the 1920s. It is somewhat experimental in the sense that it is not a continuous narrative. The chronological life story is often interrupted by information about the history of painting and drawing materials esp. the names and sources of colours. There are also anecdotes about significant paintings in history.

The book is perhaps not completely emotionally engaging due to the interruptions in the narrative. The 195 vignettes are very brief, many of them being less than half a page in length. There is much trauma and loss in the life of Henry, particularly after his experiences in the 2nd World War during the invasion of Sicily by the Allied Forces. The book has a resolution to Henry's trauma when he returns to Sicily many years afterwards.

I enjoyed reading All the Colour of the World perhaps more for the history of art, painting and colour than for Henry's story. But that is just me. This book fits more into the experimental side of the Giller shortlist along with Sarah Bernstein's Study for Obedience.

Other Reviews
A Celebration of Life by Brett Josef Grubisic, Toronto Star, January 19, 2023.

Trivia and Links
One of the paintings discussed in All the Colour in the World is "Las Meninas" (The Ladies in Waiting) (1656) by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660).

See painting at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/31/Las_Meninas%2C_by_Dieg...
Image sourced from Wikipedia.

I was especially pleased to read the anecdote about "Las Meninas" as I had previously encountered a humorous, but also thought provoking story about it:
"La primera vez que T. Gautier vio Las Meninas de Velázquez dijo: "¡¿Pero dónde está el cuadro!?". Es el mejor elogio que se le puede hacer a una obra de arte." - [author:Enrique Vila-Matas|25591].
"The first time T. Gautier saw Las Meninas by Velázquez, he said: "But where is the painting!?". That is the best compliment that can be paid to a work of art." - Enrique Vila-Matas.
( )
  alanteder | Oct 26, 2023 |
A breath-taking lay beautiful book. Took me some time to get into it but once I found my way was completely moved by it.bay great achievement. ( )
  alans | Sep 16, 2023 |
Poetic. Compassionate. Art.

5 STARS!! I would give it more stars if I could. I enjoyed this inventive second-person narrative that was structured like a guided tour of art and colour but with a throughline of story. C.S. Richardson has distilled life and art to their very essence and cleaved every unnecessary word. The result is a beautiful and deeply touching book.

I made a Goodreads pledge to read 194 books this year LOL and this was the first I read on January 1, 2023. A stellar start! Follow me to see my other reviews. ( )
  AngelDiZhang | Mar 19, 2023 |
It has been over a week since I finished reading All the Colour in the World by C.S Richardson and I have struggled with what to write for a review. This novel is certainly different from all other novels I have read, written in a stream-of-consciousness style which I admit, I am not crazy about. Somehow, through it all, I was able to find the beautiful story of Henry’s life woven throughout this factual yet poetic piece of writing.

All the Colour in the World is the story of Henry’s life and all the trials and tribulations he lived through growing up in Toronto during the ‘20s and ‘30s. His story begins on a negative note and I have to say, it doesn’t improve a whole lot as he grows up. Luckily, he was raised by a loving grandmother who gifted him a box of pencil crayons on his eighth birthday sparking his love for art and colour that helped carry him through life.

Throughout the novel, we see Henry grow up, become an art historian, find love, suffer great tragedy, and go to war only to suffer more tragedy. Henry is a very sensitive man who finds a way to cope that is so beautiful to me but of course, I can’t say much more for fear of spoiling it for the rest of you. Let me put it this way, Henry is a haunted man and some things have happened to him that follow him and sometimes seem to chase him for the rest of his days.

There are historical facts and art history facts thrown into the book, which acted like speed bumps, making it hard for me to follow the story. This made for a very hard read. When I realized that these facts were all Henry’s stream of thoughts, I started to appreciate the novel a bit more.

This novel will not be for everyone and even though I appreciate it, it wasn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps if I were interested in art, I would have found everything more interesting but what I wanted more of was the love story and the war story. Do I recommend this novel? No, I do not recommend but I still appreciate this novel and am interested in reading something else by this author since parts of the story were very beautifully written.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC to read and review. ( )
  mtngrl85 | Jan 22, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Richardson’s third novel, All the Colour in the World, is – finally – out this month. The book is a short but dense story about Henry, an art history professor whose life is marked by tragedy and the restorative power of art.
 
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Employing zuibitsu, a Japanese writing style characterized by both linked essays and disparate ideas, Sei Shonagon considers her Pillow Book --a collection of anecdotes, musings about life as a courtier, favourite quotations, poetry, lists, daily affirmations--to be for her eyes only.
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The story of the restorative power of art in one man's life, set against the sweep of the twentieth century--from Toronto in the '20s and '30s, through the killing fields of World War II, to 1960s Sicily. "Bold and resplendent. . . .  Leave it to CS Richardson to find a way to paint with words." --Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid Henry, born 1916, thin-as-sticks, nearsighted, is an obsessive doodler--copying illustrations from his Boy's Own magazines. Left in the care of a nurturing, Shakespeare-quoting grandmother, eight-year-old Henry receives as a gift his first set of colouring pencils (and a pocket knife for the sharpening). As he commits these colours to memory--cadmium yellow; burnt ochre; deep scarlet red--a passion for art, colour, and the stories of the great artists takes hold, and becomes Henry's unique way of seeing the world. It is a passion that will both haunt and sustain him on his journey through the century: from boyhood dreams on a summer beach to the hothouse of art academia and a love cut short by tragedy; from the psychological wounds of war to the redemption of unexpected love. Projected against a backdrop of iconic masterpieces--from the rich hues of the European masters to the technicolour magic of Hollywood--All the Colour in the World is Henry's story: part miscellany, part memory palace, exquisitely precise with the emotional sweep of a great modern romance.

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