Step back in time: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

I have just finished a book that I kept wanting to rush home to. My social life may have taken a bit of a bashing the past few days, but who cares? I have been immersed in the art scene of 1980s in downtown New York, courtesy of Molly Prentiss’ gutsy, compelling, vibrant, shocking, and oh-so vivid debut novel: Tuesday Nights in 1980.

The novel centres on three key protagonists who we meet as 1979 draws to a close. There is James Bennett: art critic, ‘tastemaker’, his synaesthesia enables his singular response to art and has earnt him a place in the critic elite; Raul Engales: recently ‘discovered’ artist, Argentinian exile, passionate creative, charming if spoilt womaniser; and Lucy Olliason: the muse, from Idaho, on a mission to embrace New York, its artists, and lose her innocence. As we witness their capacity for self-destruction, their lives become irrevocably intertwined.

Is it worth the read?

The novel captures the art scene on the cusp of change and Prentiss populates this energetic setting with a convincing mix of impeccably drawn characters. A particular favourite is Winona George, gallery owner, who coats everyone in “flirtatious art babble and lilac laughter.”

Prentiss successfully captures the raw, lonely, bittersweet beauty of the creative spirit and the challenges of representing private thoughts and ideas vs public judgement and success defined in monetary terms. More than that, Prentiss’ masterful skills as a writer comes to the fore in her decision to write a character with synaesthesia, the literary expression of which in a lesser author’s hands, might have become horribly trite. Her assured handling however means characters, situations and artworks evoke an array of unexpected and tangible scents, colours and sounds. On occasion these are a touch too much, but for the most part, linger long after the book is shut.

For a debut, Prentiss proves herself to be an assured writer and she knows exactly where she wants her novel to take you. With her energetic pace and tone I was happy to suspend the occasional moment of disbelief, and just let her sweep me away with it all.


Published by Penguin, ISBN: 9780241248959

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Caroline is Khoollect's resident book reviewer. This lady has had her noses in books since she can r...

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