White on White: A Novel (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
Aysegül Savas writes of people encountering others in cities that are new to them. She did this brilliantly in Walking on the Ceiling, and does so again here to a different end. A student and an older woman both have moved to a city, the student to study, the woman to make art. They meet. What unfolds with the older woman is less the making of art than talking about it, and more the ways that talk can shape and make vivid something that will never be as vivid or real as the talk itself. The lessons for the student become more real than anything academic, the larger schooling being life itself.-Rick— From Winter Booknotes 2021
A "marvelous" (Lauren Groff) and "gentle, mysterious and profound” (Marina Abramović) novel about a woman who has come undone.
A student moves to the city to research Gothic nudes, renting an apartment from a painter, Agnes, who lives in another town with her husband. One day, Agnes arrives in the city and settles into the upstairs studio.
In their meetings on the stairs, in the studio, at the corner café, the kitchen at dawn, Agnes tells stories of her youth, her family, her marriage, and ideas for her art - which is always just about to be created. As the months pass, it becomes clear that Agnes might not have a place to return to. The student is increasingly aware of Agnes's disintegration. Her stories are frenetic; her art scattered and unfinished, white paint on a white canvas.
What emerges is the menacing sense that every life is always at the edge of disaster, no matter its seeming stability. Alongside the research into human figures, the student is learning, from a cool distance, about the narrow divide between happiness and resentment, creativity and madness, contentment and chaos.
White on White is a sharp exploration of empathy and cruelty, and the stunning discovery of what it means to be truly vulnerable, and laid bare.
About the Author
Ayşegül Savaş is the author of Walking on the Ceiling. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, and elsewhere. She lives in Paris.
Praise for White on White
“Savas sets up the novel’s key theme: the knotty business of imaginative sympathy, of discovering how other perspectives might intersect with — and come to influence — our own . . . suggests that art reflects the spirit, that even without our knowledge, changes in the way we express ourselves mirror the condition of our souls . . . The titular white-on-white painting arrives midway through the novel, revealing the artist on a precipice . . . the entire world of “White on White” is selectively outlined. What of it exists exists in crisp, clean prose . . . this intangibility merely points us to the real site of the novel: the deeply psychological conversations with Agnes . . . the narrator is drawn into Agnes’s mental world, in all of its turmoil, yet, with a strange coolness, resists providing the compassion and reassurance Agnes seems to so desperately seek. The results of this thwarted intimacy move the story inexorably toward a finale that, for a book so invested in visual art, feels surprisingly most like an act of literary revenge." —Larissa Pham, New York Times Book Review
“In the middle ages, human skin was seen as a blanket stretched to cover a secret, inner life, writes Ayşegül Savaş. Reading White on White for me is like an outer skin which you open layer by layer as you read; gentle, mysterious and profound.”
"Ayşegül Savaş’ White on White is marvelous, as elegant as an opaque sheet of ice that belies the swift and turbulent waters beneath.”
"White on White is a haunting, irresistible novel. I loved this book for its depth and perception, for its beauty and eerie rhythms, but most of all for its wonderfully dream-like spell. It's breathtaking."
“A superb novel by an exceptionally elegant, intelligent, and original writer.”
"I was riveted by it. The delicate restraint of the language just adds to its power."
"Savas' luxuriantly meditative new novel, White on White, again zeroes in on these elemental interpersonal themes . . . The narrator's research into the historic ties between touch and narrative is almost unwittingly fueled by Agnes' compulsion to bare herself metaphorically . . . Savas' lyrically spare gem shimmer[s] with richly complex insights on communication, family, love and friendship.” —Cory Oldweiler, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Savaş’ restrained style is a statement in itself, minimalist on the surface but more textured than what first meets the eye." —Michele Filgate, Los Angeles Times
“Savas elegantly explores loneliness in her second novel.” —Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post
“A true portrait of artists young and old, White is narrated by a graduate student who rents an apartment from an older professor but is surprised to learn that his wife, a painter, will be joining her for much of her time abroad. Intrigue mixed with delight turns into something closer to horror as the painter's life — along with her marital drama and occasional madness — begins to overcome them both." —Entertainment Weekly
"Ambitious.” —Molly Young, New York Times
“The best books, naturally, build from a well-crafted and deliberately-chosen foundation to expand into something, as it were, novel — and the trouble for the author comes in fitting herself into a cogent tradition while, also, expressing something new and true to her own vision. These qualities of originality and classicality . . . are abundantly found in Ayşegül Savaş’ bright, perspicacious, and elegant White on White . . . Propelled by a rich voice and sharp eye, and ultimately offering an insightful study of the decay wrought by time on relationships and identity, White on White stands as both a well-defined and well-executed work in its own right and a prime example of the evolutionary process of the novel as an art form, the employment of an extant technical-mechanical route to reach a new and enlightening destination.” —Chicago Review of Books
“An elegantly stark character study . . . a haunting cautionary tale." —Christian Science Monitor
“Aysegül Savas’s novel, a high-minded, slow-moving thriller, asks whether art conceals or reveals its maker — and describes in lurid detail the horrors of creative work." —Vulture
“This is a unique and sober examination of friendship, art and the precarity inherent in all aspects of life, emotion and mind.” —Ms. Magazine
“The story at the heart of Ayşegül Savaş’s White on White is— like the title— subtly camouflaged. Savaş’s characters watch each other as they avoid themselves, in a slow, acute and obliterating double portrait."
"I read it in a day and slid into its world with total delight and admiration. It’s a deeply humane, quietly devastating, mesmerisingly beautiful masterpiece."
“How exhilarating to be swept off my feet once more, torn between wanting to savor every sentence while also wishing to rush through to the end! Savaş’s writing is unadorned and yet perfectly attuned to the poetry and strangeness of everyday life. It surprises you with kernels of wisdom . . . The world she describes is both recognizable and slightly off-balance, and nothing is ever what it seems at first glance. It is writing that I devoured in a few sittings and then returned to over and over again . . . There is an undercurrent of tension, barely perceptible at first, that intensifies throughout and makes it impossible to look away . . . what I loved most about Savaş’s novel: the stories within stories, showing how what we remember from our past illuminates the way we see ourselves . . . As I turned the last page, I felt entirely immersed in the consciousness of the novel, bound to the characters, my future just as uncertain as theirs. . . I cannot wait to press both of Ayşegül Savaş’s novels into everyone’s hands.” —Sanaë Lemoine, Electric Literature
“By the end of White on White, Savas’s message is clear: it is impossible to fully understand another person. . . White on White goes deep into human experience, beautiful and fraught, delivering a renewed perception of what it means to be a person among other people.” —Ploughshares
“Beauty and art are subjects Savaş returns to in her second novel, White on White. When, by virtue of proximity, a student of Gothic nudes becomes a companion and repository of stories told by her artist landlord, she becomes a student not only of art but of life.” —The Millions
“Despite the thriller-ish underpinning of the novel and the propulsive unfolding of the relationship at the book’s heart, Savas’ graceful and intellectual prose is the star of the show here. It makes air-light what might otherwise be a novel ponderous with weighty questions: What is the nature of art? Does it reveal or conceal? What is the nature of human connection? . . . . Like a prism, this novel brilliantly illuminates the human spectrum of connection and longing.” —Kirkus, STARRED review
“Alluring… [T]he account of the perfect Agnes’s slow crumbling builds to an unsettling conclusion. Fans of Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy will appreciate this striking portrait.” —Publishers Weekly
"Savas expertly crafts another slim, quiet yet deep novel that will attract readers who seek well-written, character-driven fiction.” —Booklist