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Susan Daitch: The Colorist

In the first paragraph, the narrator/heroine of this novel, Julie Greene, announces that she is invisible. She works as a colourist, colouring in the frames for a comic strip about a superheroine called Electra. Julie was attacked in the hall of her building in New York. The attacker said he knew where she lived and that he would be back. She believes that this is true so she moves in with her boyfriend, Eamonn. Eamonn is a photojournalist and also an Irish nationalist (he is from Belfast). He is also very judgemental. Delacroix, whom we have already met in L.C., for example, is condemned as another screwball. He is particularly judgmental about Julie and her work. When the powers that be decide that Electra is too predictable and too repetitious, they cancel the strip and Julie, Laurel, the inker and Mr. Loonan, who is the scripter, are laid off. Julie and Laurel therefore start drawing their own Electra. Meanwhile she gets occasional work, thanks to Martin, a former colleague, whom she rather likes. At the same time, she finds that Eamonn is up to strange things, such as having a fake passport, and as he increasingly disappears she becomes more friendly with Martin but when she becomes too friendly he, too, disappears. In short, Julie’s life is falling apart and this is, to a great extent, what the novel is about, a post-modern exploration of a life falling apart

The Electra story runs in parallel and, of course, it is not the Electra superheroine of the past but an Electra that runs parallel to her own life. Laurel and Julie need to earn some money and when Laurel manages to buy the little black book of a former call girl, they try that and manage to steal a thousand dollars from a customer but then give up that profession. A friend of Laurel gives them work drawing Egyptian papyri and she even gets the chance of going to her old firm, to work on a new serial but when Eamonn gets too much involved with Irish politics, things go wrong again. Poor Julie is left, as at the beginning, adrift.

Daitch cleverly gives us a postmodern novel which shows life both as it often is – adrift and without focus – but also intersecting with a dark underbelly which we cannot really understand. She creates an alter ego in the new Electra character but somehow never seems to get her own life sorted out. As Yeats so succinctly put it, Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold and, for Julie, it does not.

Publishing history

First published 1990 by Vintage