You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a bit of a sucker for novels about creative people, so it’s not a surprise that I was drawn to The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack. But the “painter” part wasn’t the only thing that drew me to it. Just when I think every possible kind of story has already been written, someone comes along and throws that thought right out of the window.
Ms. Womack describes her novel as a supernatural historical thriller, and she’s absolutely right. It’s also part time travel, part love story, part mystery, and part conspiracy thriller. Sound like a complete mishmash? Well, it’s definitely not – it’s magical. It all blends together beautifully into an incredible read. If you like M.J. Rose’s novels, you’re going to love this one. And one of you is going to win this amazing novel in our giveaway, so be sure to enter!
Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, a group of dedicated scientists worked diligently to unlock the key to memory. They had the best of intentions, wanting to help patients stricken with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When they could not get additional funding to continue testing a very promising possibility on human subjects, they became desperate and did the unthinkable. They tested it on themselves but they were not prepared for its side effects.
“The reversal of our patients’ symptoms has been staggering. I do not want to present our findings until we have drawn absolute conclusive results, but we are on the precipice of obtaining a cure for Alzheimer’s. Each patient shows a complete reversal of plaque formation as well as synaptic regeneration at levels far beyond our projections…
One of the strangest side effects is that patients are recalling memories from early childhood and infancy. These are memories they had no recollection of, even prior to their illness. Are these memories real, and if so, why couldn’t they be accessed until now?”
Let’s fast forward a few decades. Bryan Pierce is an internationally successful artist whose paintings of important historical scenes amaze everyone who sees them. He has the uncanny ability to paint them so they look like they’re going to step off of the canvas and come to life before your eyes. Collectors clamor to meet him when exhibitions are held of his work but they rarely, if ever, get that pleasure because Bryan is a very private person, almost a recluse. And Bryan has a secret he works diligently to hide.
“He put his work out there with the hope that someone, someday, would recognize his paintings for what they were, that someone else in the world suffered from the same curse. But maybe that hope was delusional. He had been searching for years and was beginning to feel it was a lost cause. Hundreds of paintings and not one answer.”
You see, Bryan doesn’t consciously paint – he paints in his sleep while he’s dreaming. His subjects? They’re actually all him in his prior lives because those lives are what Bryan dreams about, and he can’t stop. As for being an artist? Bryan had never picked up a paintbrush until one night he had an intense dream about a past life as a famous Renaissance painter. When he awoke, he knew intuitively how to paint like a master. But it doesn’t stop there. Every time Bryan dreams about a past life, he awakens not just to a painting he’s created in his sleep but with new language skills in often ancient languages and all of the knowledge and skills his past self possessed. This morning he awoke mumbling to himself in ancient Greek, thanks to Origenes Adamantius, whose memories he’s been painting for the past week.
There are two subjects that puzzle and fascinate him. He has reoccurring dreams about a beautiful ancient Egyptian woman who seems determined to convey some kind of message to him that he hasn’t been able to decipher. Although he’s painted her, he won’t put that painting in an exhibition because it’s too private and somehow he senses he should keep it hidden. The other subject that keeps re-occurring in his dreams is a woman who seems to reappear in every lifetime he’s dreamed about. She’s always there as a lover, a child, a mother, a sister, a friend, a condemned prisoner. In almost every life, he’s been unable to prevent something from happening to her and it is tearing him apart. He’s certain she’s somewhere out in the world right now, if only he can find her.
Linz Jacobs is a successful neurogeneticist, working for her father’s corporation. Her goal is to unlock the genes that determine memory with the hopes that she can help those suffering from memory related illnesses. That goal drives her 24/7 and she finds little time for anything else. Still, all work and no play make even Linz a dull girl so she decides to visit friends who own a gallery in New York. What she doesn’t expect is to be confronted by a painting that brings to life (down to the tiniest detail) a horrifying nightmare she’s been having her whole life – a nightmare in which she’s burned to death as a witch.
“Every painting was a masterpiece – even Linz could tell that. She assumed the artist must have traveled to each location in order to paint with such authenticity. But it wasn’t just their beauty – something about the images pulled at her, making her want to be alone with them in the room.
She turned the corner, where a freestanding wall had been erected to hold a single painting, the largest and most dramatic piece in the gallery. The moment she saw it, her thoughts vanished and she was suddenly standing on a mental precipice that was threatening to give way.
Minutes stretched to their breaking point. Every brushstroke screamed back at her. Somehow this artist had reached into her mind and captured something known only to her.
‘So what do you think?’ Penelope had joined her.
Linz had trouble speaking as she tried to grasp what she was seeing. The horrific image looked as real as any photograph. It was a painting of a woman tied to a stake while a sea of prisoners and Roman soldiers watched her burn.
‘He brought this one in two days ago,’ Penelope said. ‘It’s magnificent.’
Linz was still struggling to find her voice. ‘P, I know this sounds weird, but did you tell this guy about my dream?’”
To say it throws Linz would be a huge understatement. What throws her even more is meeting the artist, Bryan. What she doesn’t realize is that meeting her solidifies in Bryan’s mind that he’s right – his dreams actually are real past life experiences, because she is the woman who has reappeared over and over again in his dreams.
Meeting her also causes him to dream about a different life with a group of genetic scientists he belonged to in the 1980’s – a group engaged in experiments in memory. Something went horribly wrong in that lifetime and he’s determined to find out what it was. He also senses that Linz may once more be in grave danger and he will not let harm come to her no matter what.
How can he do that without seeming certifiable to someone as pragmatic and scientific as Linz? How can she be having dreams of a past life and not realize that’s what they are? Is she like him but unable to face it? What dangers has Bryan put into motion just by meeting her? Will their relationship be doomed yet again?
Bryan and Linz, in both their current and past incarnations, are fascinating people and I like them both immensely for different reasons. I’d love to meet and get to know both of them. I’m not going to tell you about the other characters in this novel to avoid spoilers – can’t go disclosing the villains when our heroes don’t even know who they are, now can I? Bwahahahaha.
Yes, there have been novels about past lives affecting current lives but The Memory Painter puts a very unique spin on that while combining it with other genre elements that are all its own. This is one hell of a roller coaster ride, so hang onto your seat! I was blown away by Gwendolyn Womack’s debut novel and I hope it’s just the start of many more to come. Woohoo, I’ve got a new favorite author! I’ve been bouncing up and down, wanting to share this one with you. I highly recommend it in case you haven’t guessed. Enjoy!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Memory Painter was published on April 28, 2015, so it’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller. If you download it as an e-book, you can have it to read immediately!
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One lucky reader will win a finished hardcover copy of The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack!
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