Sunday, 14 February 2016

Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West

Oscar Pellegrini is a talented fashion designer with a deadly enemy: his own critical mind. He destroys much of what he designs and has been drifting for years, gradually retreating from the fashion business he loves but holding on to his dreams of success.

A chance meeting with a former girlfriend triggers a creative crisis so deep that Oscar escapes to Russia, where he drinks and despairs like never before. Just when he thinks he has lost everything he discovers a magical machine that turns ordinary outfits into irresistible sartorial triumphs. Oscar takes the machine back to Italy – and before he knows it, he has become famous for his designs, and celebrities and socialites are fighting to be first to wear his gorgeous garments.

From the Goodreads description

I am not someone who is interested in fashion nor the industry that creates it and yet I found much to interest me in this novel. This is the story of a tortured genius, of the excruciating self doubt that cripples Oscar Pellegrini and what it takes to overcome it and at what price. That subject matter is true of any creative process and not just the fashion business, although arguably the fashion world is a particularly brutal one in which to be creative and so is an excellent choice for a novel.

I have often said in reviews that magic realism and ambiguity go hand in hand and they certainly do in this novel. With the exception of the last chapter, the novel is told in the first person by Oscar himself. This takes us into the tortured mind of a genius, who is far from a rational or reliable narrator. And whilst we at first sympathize with Oscar, it becomes very clear that he is not the sort of person you would want as a friend, son or employee. 

And what should we make of the Sampo, the magical machine that transforms his designs? In Finnish mythology the Sampo was a magical artifact that produces food/gold/good fortune for its possessor, (for more see Is his relationship with the machine a Faustian pact with the devil? Is the Sampo drawing its energy from Oscar's dying mother? Or is its magic simply due to Oscar believing in it and so gaining the confidence in his designs that he otherwise lacks? Or is it just a sign of its owner's insanity? You will be asking yourself these questions long after you read the final word.

Katerina West's writing is very descriptive: we see the world through the eyes of a man who finds inspiration in all sorts of places. Oscar's descriptions of colours are particularly impressive. But I found the pace dragging sometimes and I think Oscar's descriptions and vagaries may be the reason for this.
All in all,though, this is an interesting first book from a talented writer and of course if you are into fashion you will find an additional dimension to the book.

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review.

1 comment:

Robin Gregory said...

What an ambitious book ... and intriguing! Totally original and compelling.