Crimson Clouds by Claude Nougat
Celebrating an Uncelebrated Stage of Life
Are your about to retire? Has your lifetime partner left you? Do you need to rethink your life?
Crimson Clouds explores the issues of our “second adulthood”. It is all about romance the second time around. A passionate search for self by a man who has just retired from a brilliant career, a desperate effort by his wife to save their 20-year marriage: a life with no love is a life wasted.
Robert, just retired from a successful career as a UN manager, pursues a childhood dream of being an artist. His academic paintings dismay his wife, a lover of Contemporary Art. They fight over art, he’s square, she’s cool, but what threatens their marriage is a secret she has never revealed. They separate, he goes to live in Italy, she stays in New York. Other women enter his life, Natasha, a fiery childhood friend who’s become an affirmed art photographer and her daughter Noor, young, beautiful and deeply troubled. He discovers passion but true love and happiness still elude him. His wife returns, attracted by one of his poetic doodles “Crimson Clouds…roll in the sky…the memory of a lost love lingers on.” Can she regain that lost love?
This novel reveals the wistfulness of mature passion and delves into the complexities of self-discovery after a lifetime of work. It will take you to New York, Paris and London and in the Italian countryside, in an old house overlooking Lake Trasimeno. It will also show you the hidden workings and dangerous trappings of an alluring world that is still little known, that of Contemporary Art.
NOTE to the reader: this is a fully revised and augmented edition of “A Hook in the Sky,” hailed a “quintessential Boomer Lit novel” when it first came out in 2012.
About Claude Nougat:
Claude Nougat is a writer, economist, painter and poet. A graduate of Columbia University, Claude has dabbled in a wide variety of jobs before starting a 25-year career at the United Nations (Food and Agriculture), ending as Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
Now happily retired, Claude is fully engaged in writing and painting. The author of many books, including two in Italian that won several awards in Italy, and six books of fiction in English, Claude is considered a prime exponent of Boomer literature, a new genre aimed at Baby Boomers.
The parallels between Claude’s life and Crimson Clouds cannot be denied, though there are substantial differences; Claude is a woman and not a man; moreover, her marriage, blessed with children, is not threatened by her painting activities…
Her poetry has been included in Freeze Frame, an international poetry anthology curated by British poet Oscar Sparrow, published by Gallo Romano Media in 2012.
Claude lives in Italy.
Review by Abigail Padgett: Crimson Clouds is a hair-raising coming-of- (Baby Boomer) age story, but an exclusive focus on that dimension may obscure its delicious complexity. Anne Korkokeakivi, writing for THE MILLIONS, notes that French novels tend to be “… dark, searching, philosophical, autobiographical, self-reflective, and/or poetic (without being overwritten).” Author Nougat isn’t French, but her protagonist is, and the novel’s style fails none of these criteria. Indeed, it reads like the haunting, subtitled movie you discuss with friends for months!
The principal narrator, Robert, casts light on a heretofore uncelebrated stage of life – the third. He is retiring from a career at the U.N. and painfully unsure of his next step. Kay, his American wife, is twenty years his junior and deeply involved in her work as the owner of a trendy New York art gallery. The couple is childless, a decision made years earlier by Kay without Robert’s knowledge or consent, the revelation of which decision causes the couple to separate. Robert is abruptly alone, trying to recapture an abandoned version of himself – the (traditional) artist he wanted to be before choosing a more practical career. He may stay with that career as a consultant, but instead dives headlong into the unknown.
His story is direct, seemingly honest and never “overwritten.” He describes exotic Italian locales, his loathing for Modernist art and details of his affairs with an old friend and the friend’s troubled daughter in a seductively boundaried style. The reader, while mesmerized by the written proximity of sunlit Italian villas, the inner workings of the U.N., heady discourses on art and the palpable disintegration of a marriage, is nonetheless aware that much remains mysterious, unsaid. Robert is a quiet man, and yet his story is borne forward with an impossible-to-put-down momentum. SOMETHING is about to happen, and it does.
What happens is a fascinating shift, reminiscent of that in Muriel Barbery’s THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG. Once a straightforward, uncompromising tale of one (admittedly privileged and cultured) man’s transitional crisis, the novel suddenly blossoms into a sort of conceptual magic show. It’s a wild ride into symbolic territory that may jar readers who were expecting either consistency or a sweet, comfortable ending. After bitter confrontations over Kay’s passion for Modernist art, Robert uncharacteristically agrees to create a huge Modernist installation, a towering, dangerous, Escheresque maze of aluminum ladders rising to… a hook. Unreachable but omnipresent, the hook both looms above and incites the conflicting struggles of the lives below. Robert and Kay’s conflict over art reflects both their personal discord and a larger philosophical perspective from which Kay emerges monstrous, a shallow, desperate pawn in the capitalist game. But neither does Robert emerge a hero. He chronicles, but does not alter, the horrific/fantastic concluding events (unreported here to avoid spoiling their effect on readers). Robert is Everyman, but an Everyman who can tell a story!
Ideal for book clubs, Crimson Clouds poses questions for which there may be no answers, but about which endless discussion will be compelling.