The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
Allen & Unwin $32.99 pb, 292 pp, 9781743439951
Australian-born Dominic Smith grew up in Sydney but has spent most of his adult life in the United States; he currently lives in Austin, Texas, where he is claimed as a 'Texan writer'. Despite the fact that this is his fourth novel, the fact that his previous novel was shortlisted for two major Australian literary prizes, and the fact that he is clearly a major talent, his name is largely unfamiliar to Australian readers. The question 'What exactly is an Australian writer?' has popped up regularly for the last 200 years, but is getting harder and harder to answer.
'Sara de Vos is a character built out of gaps and silences,' Smith has said in an essay for the Paris Review (April 2016). Titled 'Daughters of the Guild', the essay gives some fascinating background information to the writing of this novel, discussing the art of the Dutch Golden Age and the women painters of that time and place who have been all but lost to history, and giving some insights into the creative process as Smith both imagined and experienced it in the writing of his latest novel. The character of Sara is an imagined one, but she has her genesis in the fate of one or two real women and the shadowy possibilities of many more – women whose work may have been misattributed to male artists and whose names may have been obscured by the historical records.