Posted by: Marita Thomson | October 16, 2007

Prochownik’s Dream

prochownik.jpgby Alex Miller (Published by Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005)

This is the story of an artist, Toni Powlett, living in Melbourne with his wife Teresa and their small daughter. The story begins with Toni posing for his daughter who is doing his portrait in crayon, and it is a reference point he returns to much later in this story. Toni hasn’t been able to paint or draw for four years when the book begins. Not since the death of his immigrant father, Moniek Prochownik, who was an amateur artist, working in a factory by day and painting small domestic subjects by night. “Paint what you love” Moniek said.

Toni finally regains his inspiration when two old friends return to Melbourne. Marina and Robert are also artists and Teresa dislikes and distrusts them. But it is Marina who proves to be the muse for Toni’s renewal.

Miller tells an enthralling and at times painful tale of the ensuing months. Teresa knows she has married an artist and wants to support him. However, the burden of making a living and coping with her own and their daughter’s needs while Toni is increasingly absorbed in his art (and Marina) proves a testing, sometimes devastating task. And presumably one that will go on in one way or another throughout their relationship if Toni pursues his art.

I was distressed to read a review that said that nothing much happens in this book, as I was absorbed in the story. But I guess in a literal sense this is true. So I would recommend this book to those who enjoy a contemplative read, although it certainly has many emotional highs and lows. Whilst the artistic perspective is an interesting one, I don’t think you have to be an artist to recognise the pressure that the competing demands of life place on relationships. The position of the child in this story is particularly evocative, I think, as we see Toni’s love for his daughter and knowledge at times of what he is risking. But must he risk it all the same?

Another character in Prochownik’s Dream says “Don’t confuse art with life, Toni.” It is good advice.

Read an interview with Alex Miller about Prochownik’s Dream at The Book Show on ABC Radio National.

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