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Book Review: The Vanitas & Other Tales of Art and Obsession by Jake Kendall #TheWriteReads #UltimateBlogTour

My dear bookish friends,

Books and art are two of my greatest passions in life. So, when I heard that this short story collection was going on tour with TheWriteReads I knew I had to take the chance to read it, and I’m so glad I did! Please keep on reading to find out more about the book, and for my review!

A huge thank you to TheWriteReads, the author, and Neem Tree Press for my review copy and spot on this tour (none of which influenced my review or rating in any way)!
About the Book

Spanning 300 years of art history and weaving art styles including Cubism, Surrealism, and the Baroque into his prose, Jake Kendall’s collection tells the stories of those with an obsession for creation – artists who sacrifice friendships, careers, romance, and even their own happiness in pursuit of a vision.

How far would you go for the sake of art?

In these 8 illustrated short stories, Monet, Van Gogh, Géricault and others navigate the boundary between art and experience through masterfully written prose that reflects each artist’s style. The collection culminates with “The Vanitas”, where Sandro Signorelli’s philosophy that a lifetime of faith and toil shall receive its just reward is challenged by the emergence of a new artist. Across town, Michelangelo Merisi is making seismic waves. The city of Rome cannot help but be captivated by this explosive eruption of talent, swagger, seduction, and violence, while Sandro’s life is plunged into crisis by a rival who does not even know his name.

My Review

The Vanitas & Other Tales of Art and Obsession is an inventive short story collection about some of the greatest artists to ever have lived, and their (often very obsessive) link to art.

I really like the concept of this book and think the short stories were the exact right mode of writing for the topic and its execution. While the stories themselves range from rather short to much longer, this is by no means a light or easy read. In fact, I could imagine it being used as part of a university seminar (in Art History or Literature perhaps) reading list. The stories make you think and require your full attention, and the language used is sometimes metaphorical and makes use of a more highbrow language, so I think taking your time with them is a good idea to go about this read.

Seven out of the eight stories are on the shorter side, while the main story which also gives the book it’s name (‘The Vanitas’) takes up the greater part of the book. The stories span three centuries of art history, and you can really sense not only the different themes and obsessions, but also the different time periods very nicely in each story. What I also enjoyed a lot was that each story was preceded by captivating and atmospheric illustrations which were very fitting to the themes of the stories and the book as a whole.

It’s hard to say which of the stories was my favourite, as they are all so different and uniquely captivating in their own way. However, I think ‘Thirty-Seven Neugrabenstrasse’ and ‘Under Shimmering Constellations’ will probably stay with me the longest. In the former, a boy named Markus lives in a flat with his parents. His father never leaves home, and neither do his mother or himself very often. His father’s sole obsession lies in the artworks filling their entire living space, together with the fact that, as he likes to go on and on about, he is a billionaire. After his mother left them, Marcus’s desperation becomes almost palpable. His entire life takes place inside the apartment, and with his father’s mental state deteriorating seemingly day by day, Marcus is left to fend for himself. Even though his father forbid it, he starts to sneak books into the house and starts to read at night. What he learns about the world, and especially the world wars, opens his eyes to the real reason behind his father’s reclusiveness and obsession with his pieces of art. I didn’t expect that revelation and felt it was very well done. This story especially showed the intensity of very different kinds of emotions that the obsession with art brought about: while the father loses his sanity over it, his son experiences a great sadness and hopelessness, followed by an even greater epiphany.

‘Under Shimmering Constellations’ was very intense too, although for different reasons. A mourning mother is watching her son through the window in the garden; he is playing hide and seek with her cousin. Even though the mother is grateful for her relative’s help with her boy in their time of need, she also has a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, one which will soon prove to be right. Without wanting to spoiler anything, faith and God, as well as bad actions hidden in the name of God, are what makes this story very emotionally touching.

Overall, I really enjoyed this short story collection and think the idea behind it is unique and has been executed really well! To mention a perhaps slight negative, I felt the language was sometimes a tad too flowery and metaphorical for my taste, perhaps unnecessarily so, which made it hard to follow at times when I didn’t focus enough. That is why I will take one star off, which means 4 out of 5 stars for The Vanitas & Other Tales of Art and Obsession. I cannot wait to read more by Jake Kendall and recommend this book to lovers of art and art history, as well as well-written short stories alike.


Thank you all so much for reading, and do let me know if you will pick up this unique short story collection! The book will be released February 22, 2024.



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