Starry Nights is a dividing story of mine. Some readers love it, others hate it. The truth is, I loved working on it just as much as I enjoyed working on my more appreciated books. And if I enjoyed working on it, the story is already a success to me, no matter how it is received. Of course, I would love it if every reader liked it as much as I liked writing it, but this is impossible.
However, there are readers who saw in the story exactly what I intended to show, and that makes me happy. I always tell myself that if one reader appreciates the story, it was already worthwhile writing it. I would like to share this incredibly well-written, detailed review I received by fellow author Dave Higgins. Thank you, Dave, for taking the time.
Engaging Blend of Artistic Journey and Cosmic Horror
Kovax weaves a tale of obsession and freedom that asks whether art can be not merely beyond morals and sanity but the laws of reality as we know them.
Margo Garabond’s paintings have brought her fame and riches; but success has left her needing drink and pills just to get through another exhibition opening. Hoping to leave her pervasive misery behind and reclaim the sheer joy of art, she withdraws to Arles, where her artistic idol Van Gogh spent his life. A chance meeting with Albert, a talented but unknown artist, promises the new start she seeks. However, something dark and hungry has also taken an interest in Albert’s art.
The novel opens with Margo drunkenly storming out of a party in her honour that she never wanted to attend in the first place. Equal parts arrogant self-indulgence and empathetic revelation, this lays bear the straitjacket of expectations that come with being a celebrity without hiding the privilege inherent in being rich enough to simply hurl one’s current career away because it isn’t joyous.
Kovax paints Margo’s arrival as a release from the gilded misery of her celebrity life, filled with wandering at will and seeking the beauty Van Gogh saw first; however, as with the opening, he skilfully interweaves this with glimpses that Arles is a real modern town rather than a background to the legend of Van Gogh, hinting that Margo’s vision of finding her meaning in Van Gogh’s story is as superficial as the image of Artist she has rejected.
Initial reminders of reality aside, Margo’s first few days in Arles offer hope, especially when Albert proves to be both romantically and artistically compatible. However, as her relationship grows, she discovers that the vibrant strangeness of his art is drawn not from his imagination but from glimpses of the weird and horrific given to him by an unknown benefactor. This forces Margo, and with her the reader, to consider a question that has plagued those who record what they see, whether for art or reportage: is recording something that is happening purely an act of observation or can it be as much participation as actually doing a thing?
With Margo and Albert pulled together by both their attraction and their passion for art but divided by how far they will go in painting the things that this mysterious benefactor wishes to show them, Kovax carefully weaves in the further distinction between theoretical perfection and practical behaviour: is Margo right to demand others don’t do something because it feels unpleasant or is that the privilege of someone who is already successful?
While the core horror of the novel comes from Kovax’s portrayal of inhumane choices, some of the things Margo witnesses are body horror; thus, while not packed with gratuitous shocks or gross for the sake of being edgy, this is not a book for readers who prefer to avoid visceral description of living beings remade into something very other.
This novel has a distinct aspect of cosmic dread: not the intellectualism of Lovecraft or nihilism of Ligotti; but a vision of the artistic journey leading not merely beyond where a person is willing to go but beyond where the human mind can comprehend.
Margo is a well-crafted protagonist, obsessed enough with her art that it feels plausible that she would both become a success and voyage into obscene places but troubled enough by unfair burdens from others that she remains sympathetic despite the privilege and self-centredness.
Albert is a solid foil to Margo, equally driven by the desire to create great art but filled with hunger for an idealised successful career.
The supporting cast, while making sparse appearance, display an overall diversity and personal nuance that makes them feel like real people with complete lives that intersect this story; in addition to making them feel more plausible, this contributes to the feeling that events are part of a wider world rather than purely being in Margo’s head.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking an engaging variation on the horror of an irrational world or an exploration of obsession.