Scarlet in Blue
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Blue Lake has spent the fifteen years of her childhood constantly moving from one town to another with her mother Scarlet, a renowned artist. At a moment’s notice they would leave everything behind and catch a bus to wherever it was going and find somewhere new to live, both of them with new names chosen from a packet of colored crayons.
After a few months in the new town Blue knew it would only be a matter of time before her mother saw ‘HIM’ again, the shadowy man Scarlet is convinced is stalking them, driving past silently in a dark car with tinted windows. Blue has never seen this man and wonders if he is just someone her imaginative mother has conjured up.
Their latest move has taken them to South Haven, a popular summer tourist town on Lake Michigan. What Blue doesn’t know is that Scarlet has chosen this specific town as part of a plan she has been hatching for some time. They arrive in the dead of winter with the lake frozen into huge frozen waves. After settling in to a ramshackle house, Scarlet begins to paint again, paintings in the style of Renoir for which she is well known. She is fascinated by trying to reproduce paints made from natural ingredients, especially the ‘fugitive pigments’ that fade over time, causing the colors on some of the old Masters to lose their vibrancy as they age.
Blue is a talented pianist and, missing the old piano they rescued off the street in their last town, she soon gravitates to the music store where she finds pianos to play and a teacher who recognizes her talent and offers to give her free lessons. After making a friend, Hannah who is chatty but undemanding, enrolling in the local high school and falling for a cute guy in her class she starts to feel settled in this town and wishes they could stay. She is however, concerned that her mother is behaving strangely, hearing voices, seeing imaginary friends, losing track of time and painting naked in the dark, often the same painting of a yellow boat over and over again. Scarlet has started seeing a psychoanalyst, so Blue hopes that he will be able to help her, but little does she know that he is part of Scarlet’s master plan to finally release themselves from the need to keep running.
Told in the alternating voices of Blue, Scarlet and Scarlet’s psychoanalyst, Henry, this is a tale of love, revenge, art and madness. Scarlet’s love for her daughter and her quest to be free of the past that has ruled their lives is so strong that she will do anything to give her daughter a better future. The characters of mother and daughter and the bonds between them are beautifully drawn as Scarlet wavers between brilliance and madness and Blue longs to be an ordinary teenager. The author’s lovely prose flows effortlessly, flavored by her wide knowledge of art and her ability to engage the reader in the techniques of the artist. This is a psychological drama that is unique and captivating, making it both an impressive and engrossing novel.
With thanks to Penguin Random House for a copy to read. Publication expected March 8, 2022.