The story began when a dying artist decided that he wanted to paint a final portrait of his nieces. I thought this book was going to be Uncle Finn’s life story, told after his death through the eyes of the two people who knew him best – his niece June, and the love of his life Toby.
Instead it turned out to be a rather strange love triangle.
June had always thought that she was Finn’s closest friend, and that he had nobody else. She never met Toby while her uncle was alive, so the existence of this gay lover, while acknowledged, did not feel real. The uncle & niece had a very close relationship – they were the sort of people that the term “kindred spirits” were invented for. He was her uncle, her godfather, and her first love.
And then he died.
That’s when June discovered she knew very little of him after all, and there were things about Finn that weren’t Finn at all. See, this is what happens when people live double lives, and there was this big, important other half of Finn’s life that June didn’t know about, because it wasn’t her half. And she’s only finding out now, after his death, when she can no longer ask him about it. The people you spend time with changes you. So how much of Finn that she’d known was really Finn himself, and how much of it was Toby?
It’s like we’ve known each other all these years. Without even seeing each other. It’s like there’s been this . . . this ghost relationship between us. You laying out my plectrums on the floor, me buying black-and-white cookies every time I knew you would be coming over. You didn’t know that was me, but it was.”
And then you have the siblings’ rivalry, although I wouldn’t call it rivalry, per se. It was more of bitter resentment between siblings who were once close to each other and then drifted apart; one of whom did not handle the loss very well. Finn and his sister’s relationship parallels June’s relationship with her sister Greta; and with the example set by their mother no wonder Greta acted as she did, making life difficult for June. Because that’s exactly what Finn’s sister did to him. There is a fine line between love and hatred; sometimes the line gets blurred.
About the prose – I may be in the minority, but I found it monotonous at times, which is understandable; given that it revolves around the life of a sixteen-year-old.
I think it would be better told entirely in retrospection from a future June, or even narrated by a younger June as events unfold, in comparison to the author’s choice of switching incessantly between the two perspectives.
Every. Single. Chapter makes a reference to some famous novel or movie. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, because I don’t know why it’s necessary and what the author may be trying to convey with all these little tributes – the last time I read something like this was in the The Inkheart Trilogy, where every chapter began with a quote from a famous book.
Lastly, about the portrait – it makes it presence known throughout the story, but the portrait in itself is not very important except for the fact that it exists, is titled Tell the Wolves I’m Home, and is continually being defiled by its inheritors.