The Dark Clue


J.M.W.Turner was one of the boldest and most elusive geniuses England has ever produced. When Walter Hartright and his sister-in-law Marian are commissioned to write a biography of the great Romantic landscape artist, their attempt to draw his life out of the shadows sends them tripping across Victorian London in all of its staggering extremes.

Together they encounter a kaleidoscopic array of fantastic characters, from the hardened street urchins of the city's poorest quarters, to the tawdry women of the dockside brothels, to the celebrated visionary, John Ruskin. And yet the more Walter and Marian discover of Turner — the depraved company he kept, the dark places he frequented, his mysterious link to an unspeakable act — the more his true life seems to move vexingly out of reach. Can Walter and Marian untangle fact from a rapidly expanding web of conspiracy? What is the price of truth?

Praise for The Dark Clue

'The Dark Clue is James Wilson's first novel, and a remarkable one. It owes much to Wilkie Collins's masterpiece, The Woman in White, perhaps the greatest Victorian novel of suspense. Collins is not only Wilson's model: he has lent him two characters, the artist Walter Hartright and his sister-in-law Marian Halcombe, who here, as in Collins's novel, bear most of the burden of the narrative.'

'That said, Wilson hasn't written a pastiche Victorian novel, as, for instance, Charles Palliser did in The Quincunx. Indeed he has brought off something which is really very difficult: to write a novel set in the period when the greatest English novels were written, and to come up with something which is not an imitation but which never rings false.'

'Wilson has written a wonderfully entertaining novel. But it is not only entertaining; Walter Hartright is investigating the mystery of a life. In doing so, he must confront the mystery of the springs of art and the nature of genius.'
Allan Massie in The Scotsman

'His great achievement is that, as the story progresses, its texture increasingly resembles that of Turner's paintings: seemingly effortless yet immaculately designed and executed.'
Literary Review

'James Wilson's ambitious, intelligent and gripping first novel is about how we can never know the whole truth about a life. The Dark Clue is rich with atmosphere and suspense.'
Sunday Express

'Wilson's evocation of a mysterious London blanketed by smog is superb.'
The Financial Times

'It's a real thriller, I enjoyed it greatly. It was beautifully structured. I love London even more after reading this book.'
Brenda Maddox

'The Dark Clue explores the way in which we cling to formal structures and its beauty lies in how it undermines its own formal devices. Neither parody nor pastiche, it wrestles with the structure of Victorian detective-fiction from a modern perspective, setting the tightly-coiled spring of plot against the vortex-like coils of Turner's painting.'
The Times

'The author of The Woman in White recalled the painter standing at his easel, locked in some kind of synaesthetic reverie: "some wonderful dream of colour; every touch meaning something, every pin's head of colour being a note in the chromatic scale." In The Dark Clue, James Wilson has achieved something similar.'
The Independent on Sunday

'Another brand of British celebrity, from the 19th century art world, forms the background of a stunning first novel, James Wilson's The Dark Clue. Wilson tells his story in a stately narrative that recalls Collins and other masters of that era. Moreover, at moments his descriptions — of London's squalor, of exquisite English gardens, of the Thames on a foggy morning — are as luminous, majestic and mysterious as Turner's finest paintings; you may read them in awe.'
The Washington Post

Cover of The Dark Clue

Faber and Faber (20 May 2002)
ISBN-10: 0571202764

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