First of all, a conflict of interest statement: Brenda Clews is a good friend of mine, and I have collaborated on performances and dinners with her.
So, about her novell(a), depending on where you draw the dividing line… It has the complexity of a full-length work of fiction, and at 208 pages, the length, although Brenda described it to me as a novella. It is, like the author herself, impossible to pigeonhole. Brenda, depending on the context in which you meet her or her work, is a poet, fiction writer, videographer, painter, photographer, dancer, and presiding spirit over poetry and music salons. Fugue in Green is equally mutable — a “gothic fairy tale,” as the back-cover blurb states, but also a story of intuition, of a sadly dysfunctional family and a mentally ill, abusive mother, an evocation of the power of creative thought, a ghost story and a voyage of recovery. It’s worth recalling the double meaning of “fugue” as a style of imaginative musical composition, and a psychiatric term denoting a state that is a “flight” from reality.
The protagonist is Steig, a teenaged girl whose identity is formed by her intense bond with nature, especially trees; her younger brother Curtis; their experimental film-maker father Reb; his muse-like camera operator Clare; and his estranged wife Leica (perhaps not accidentally the name of a highly-regarded line of cameras). As for the plot, expect a journey, suspense and surprise. But it’s probably better to let the the reader follow the threads than to draw them out here. The real energy of the book is its rich language, its portrayal of of a highly-intuitive creative process, and the permeable boundaries which Clews skilfully manipulates between characters, and between them and their environment. Long-dead family members sometimes reappear, in disconcerting form, to give Steig advice, or get her into trouble. Steig inhabits her mother’s world through dreams and visions, and, like a dryad, needs a forest to sustain her. The film-making team shares the inner life of aquarium inhabitants, and records leaves swirling into the image of a woman’s face. Colour permeates everything, especially the title’s green,
The overall effect is a hallucinatory, highly poetic kind of fiction that, without imitation, recalls some interesting literary ancestors to me — Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, Virginia Woolf’s experimental work The Waves, Kenneth Patchen’s The Journal of Albion Moonlight. I recommend you read it, because I’m sure, while you will recognize some of the strengths I have identified, your experience will be unique. It’s that kind of book.