ARC: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough


5 stars

Based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, Blood Water Paint is a stunning debut in verse on feminism, rape, and justice in a historical setting.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s mother died when she was twelve and she now lives with her father, painting his commissions as he signs  his name on her work. Rome in 1610 is a dangerous place as men take what they want and Artemisia is faced with a choice between a life of silence or truth after her tutor takes advantage of her.

This novel, told in verse, shows the ups and downs of Artemisia’s heartbreaking story, tied in with the tales of the two ancient heroines Susanna and Judith.

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This book certainly lives up to its title as a stunning debut because it certainly is.

If any of you have heard of milk and honey by Rupi Kaur (see my review here), it’s like that–but a billion times better.

I can’t really comment on the verse aspect of this novel–this is the second novel I’ve read told in verse that wasn’t a fully “poetry” novel, and so I don’t feel experienced enough to comment on this. I did find it to have a nice rhythm and I liked how it utilized the left and the right side and italics and staggered lines, although I still sometimes read it like it was just a sentence rather than told in verse.

There are non-verse parts that are short little inserts that might seem confusing as to what they are, but eventually become clear to be Artemisia’s mother telling the stories of Susanna and Judith to young Artemisia.

If you are unsure if you want to start reading this novel because you’ve never read a book in verse, I say go for it. If you liked milk and honey, then you should definitely go for this (it’s got similar themes on rape, womanhood, etc., but told as an actual story rather than lines pasted around Tumblr). If you didn’t like milk and honey (because of it’s superficial-Tumblr-nature or because of
breaks) then you should still go for this novel because it was very lovely and meaningful and had a plot and was more substantial in general.

So basically, everyone should read this book because it’s so good.

The message was portrayed artfully (Ba dum bum crash! Get it? Artfully? Ok, moving on.) and I loved the emotion this novel stirred and how McCullough managed to approach the topic of rape so tastefully.

There were so many quote-worthy sections and this entire novel, although very short as I read it in just over an hour, like this:

I wish men
would decide
if women are heavenly
angels on high,
or earthbound sculptures
for their gardens.

But either way we’re beauty
for consumption.

Or this:

I will show you 
what a woman can do.

But it wasn’t all Tumblr-worthy lines as a story was actually being told and things were happening. We see how Artemisia is dealing with her terrible situation of being the actual painter behind her father’s work, and the introduction of her unknown-now-but-future rapist who she thinks likes her for herself. And then the fantasy shatters and he tries and eventually succeeds in raping her, leading to her own moral questions of does she stay silent or speak up–trying to clear her name despite the odds against her.

It was done so well. We are introduced to her future rapist as if he was someone who might actually be decent, and then boom! He’s not decent.

I think McCullough worked with this topic very well, and I really love all the parallels and similarities drawn up throughout the book in the short stories of Susanna and Judith, both who struggled with battles women face against unspeakable, yet all-too-familiar violence that threatens all women.

The connections McCullough draws between the stories are genius and I really loved seeing it all come together. I can’t spoil everything, but i just really loved how the three storylines are connected by the strength of them being female and the sacrifices they make.

McCullough has been writing this for as long as I’ve been alive (since 2001) and it really shows. She’s wonderful at her craft, something not normally found in debut works, and I’m very excited to see what else she comes up with.

It was all so interesting, and I just really enjoyed reading Blood Water Paint and was surprised by how good it was. It is much shorter than I wanted it to be, but it was very profound and had a huge impact that I loved reading. I would totally recommend this to everyone and anyone–this is another one to make the favorites list (two in one month!).

Thank you to Joy McCullough and Dutton for providing me with an advance reading copy (through a giveaway) in exchange for an honest review!

much love, vicky

Are you excited for Blood Water Paint to come out, because I sure am! Have you read any novels on rape/rape culture? Which ones?

4 thoughts on “ARC: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

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