The Diver and the Lover – Jeremy Vine

Images above: The Diver and the Lover; Jeremy Vine

A novel about madness, obsession, art and love

The Diver and the Lover is about madness in several forms: the terrible effects of the trauma of serving in the First World War and the echoes of that trauma on the next generation; the madness of genius, obsession and the lengths a person will go to in pursuit of perfection.

It’s about love, in the conventional sense of two young people falling in love for the first time against the back drop of Spain in the aftermath of the civil war, and in the familial sense of sisters, who find themselves in adulthood after being brought up apart.

It’s also about art history. Salvador Dali’s 1951 painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross was controversial not for the usual reasons his paintings upturned convention – the melting clocks and the grotesque manipulation of form and features – but for the religious passions it stirred.

The painting is in the collection of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. It depicts Christ on the cross, seen from above, with every sinew straining as he hangs, without nails or the traditional crown of thorns, with a darkened sky behind him and a harbour, with a boat and fishermen far below. It was a controversial purchase by the Director of Glasgow Museums Tom Honeyman, who bought it in 1952, in the teeth of opposition from those who thought the gallery space should have gone to a local artist.

The Guardian art critic, Jonathan Jones, described it as “kitsch and lurid”, but noted that the painting was “for better or worse, probably the most enduring vision of the crucifixion painted in the 20th century. It was slashed by a visitor in 1961.

Why did the painting arouse such passion? Jeremy Vine’s novel weaves the story of the two sisters, finding themselves after years apart, connecting on a holiday in Spain, with the love story of the younger sister, who falls for a young Canadian who is working as a waiter at their hotel, and the story of how Dali created Christ of Saint John of the Cross.

It’s a good read, published by Orion, available from Amazon

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