BLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough is a beautiful and impactful book written in verse featuring the famous Renaissance painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. This post CONTAINS SPOILERS.
If you would like to read the spoiler-free post click here. To begin, here is the summary and a quick review before the extended review:
Summary: Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.
She chose paint.
By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.
He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.
Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.
I will show you
what a woman can do.
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Why I was interested: As I have mentioned before, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres in YA and beyond. I remember learning about Artemisia Gentileschi in my high school art classes and thinking how powerful her paintings were. I had also never really read many books in verse, so I was intrigued by the book’s potential.
Side note: Personally, I picked this book up at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA the week of the Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I was so frustrated by the hearings that I wanted to dive into a book that addressed topics including rape and women supporting women. So, yes, it was a political decision too.
Judge a book by it’s cover: While the cover is stunning with cracking paint, it is also textured! It feels like canvas and that made me thrilled that it contained this subtle detail
What to expect: While most of the book is written in verse, there are some parts written in prose. I am not a huge poetry person, but once you get into the rhythm of the story, it flows rather well. Fun fact: this book was originally a play which makes sense in regards to it being dialogue heavy. For trigger warnings: this book does address rape, women supporting (and even failing) women, archaic political systems (as it takes place in Renaissance Italy), and the characters and situations may make you very frustrated. However, the book and its topics are presented in a really respectful manner and the rape scene is very minimal in detail.
Why you should pick this book up: BLOOD WATER PAINT is a super impactful read as well as being a quick read. I truly believe everyone should read it especially in the #MeToo movement age. Also, if you are interested in women’s rights, Renaissance Italy, Artemisia Gentileschi and her artwork, you will appreciate this story in verse.
Want more?: If you have read BLOOD WATER PAINT, you can read the post containing spoilers below.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ BLOOD WATER PAINT do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.
Media Gal Reads’ Review:
As I mentioned above, I picked up this book for political reasons: I was frustrated like many other Americans with the Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I couldn’t do much about the hearings and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stroke the angry fire burning within me or just hug every individual who crossed paths with me. These mixed emotions and feeling slightly helpless made me want to read BWP. So when I entered Avid, I knew it was going to be my purchase.
I had only read a few novels in verse before as they were for reading in my English and creative writing classes and I had read many playscripts for my screenwriting and script writing classes. But reading a YA book in verse was new to me and imagine my pleasant surprise after finishing the novel and reading the Acknowledgements that BWP began as a play. The story being written in verse and the discussions of rape and being vocal about it or not is a very important and impactful combination.
Quickly the verse becomes natural as if Artemisia is having a conversation with the reader. What she thinks and what she voices is only differentiated by italics. But Chapter 55 is the most impactful as you read as Artemisia’s thoughts and memories and voices all collide. The use of spacing helps to show not only pauses in conversation but when her mind races and she realizes the weight of everything that has happened to her.
The use of verse balances out with the stories of Susanna and Judith as told by Artemisia by her mother. These three women offer empathy for Artemisia in contrast to Tuzia, the housemaid who is paid by Agostino Tassi, her rapist. Susanna and Judith are not just stories but vocally offer help with Artemisia learning how to heal and move forward after the trial.
Thoughts and spoken word become one in BWP. The use of dialogue helps to show that Artemisia has a right to voice her experience and others should respect what she has to say. This contrasts with Tuzia who does not voice for her but rather remains quiet, letting Tassi assault Artemisia. The focus on voice allows BWP to speak louder than if it also included heavy description. Instead it focuses on the most important part: Artemisia’s voice as she speaks up for herself.
What did you think of Joy McCullough’s BLOOD WATER PAINT? I’d love to hear your comments below!