Cut Out is the story of two people, a young ‘country mouse’ called Clémence, or Clem, whose relationship with an artist and his mistress leads to her running away from home, and a gay man, Denis, her long-lost godson, who is invited to meet her in Nice many years later. What is the mystery his deceased French mother has kept from him? Why has Clem sent him a piece of blue paper that looks like a giant tear from one of Matisse’s famous cutout compositions?
Last year, Roberts published an autobiographical memoir, Negative Capability, which gave a heart-rending account of her feelings after having a novel turned down by her publisher while her marriage to a painter was falling apart. Like many mid-list lifetime writers, she has always lived precariously. Cut Out is a sumptuously written and life-affirming examination of what it is to be an artist, a woman, a feminist and a person in which a distinctly French vein of common sense is perennially at odds with both a Catholic upbringing and a bohemian idealism. Every page flickers and glows with colour, and with sharp sentences about creativity and survival. Roberts herself was partly healed by seeing an exhibition of the work of Pierre Bonnard, another supremely sensuous painter, but here it is the mystery and magnificence of Matisse that exert a spell over her characters.
As a teenager, Clem is recruited by an artist, whom she nicknames ‘the Brush’, to clean, cook and entertain his pregnant Parisian mistress Camille while he paints and photographs the Provençal landscape. She copes well, even when groped by her odious employer, but when Camille paints the little