Books, Fiction, Reviews

Book review: Surrender by Joshua Yeldham

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Most of us will have a book or two from childhood that was so intense, so heart-tugging, that it felt like a magic spell. Often these books will be illustrated and the pictures are the core of the emotional experience around which the written narrative coalesces.

Like those books we yearn for even decades after reading them, Joshua Yeldham’s Surrender is an ambitious attempt to capture hearts and transfigure minds. The lavishly illustrated collection of anecdotes and short poems is dominated by the visual elements of the story, which include Yeldham’s acclaimed paintings and elegant photographs.

The book is richly rewarding, mostly due to its beauty as a collection of artworks, many of which focus on landscapes and the spiritual relationships they evoke. However, the writing varies significantly in quality. This is perhaps not surprising for the first-time author who is also a multi-award winning artist and documentary director.

Some of the writing is well-paced anecdotes, festooned with photos and intricate artworks. Yeldham’s real-life adventures across the desert and, for example, setting up camp near an abandoned bus make for engaging reading.

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However, other sections struggle to flow or communicate much more than their existence as a splash of words across a gorgeous backdrop. The poems in particular lack resonance. This is perhaps because throughout the book, the role and relationship with the reader remains unclear, and at times, unsatisfying.

This is almost inevitable for books that are pitched to readers as an intimate diary written to a family member, in this case for Yeldham’s daughter Indigo. It is difficult to maintain the spell of this familiarity while including readers. Its reading veers between feeling a trusting, almost familial, connection to Yeldham and feeling there are gaps in the story, specifically the authenticity of the author’s reminiscences.

That said, some of Yeldham’s epistles to his daughter about his life and art are among the most enjoyable segments of the book:

“Indigo, my greatest challenge was to build a bridge between myself and the landscape. In my loneliness I retreated to the bus and for hours I would paint near the rusted bed, engulfed by the heat. I watched the light bleed across the iron bed frame,” Yeldham writes of his artistic process.

“Bed springs shaped like lilies and pods. I would dream life into my fantasy of Eliza. I didn’t sleep in the bus. I didn’t want to intrude. I slept in my swag.”

While some of the writing could be more effective, pairing his thoughts with the images of Surrender might offer more transcendent moments for those who enter Yeldham’s world than many more acclaimed novels released so far this year.

Surrender is published by Picador Australia

You can buy the book here

Surrender – The art of Joshua Yeldham ©2014 – 1 from joshuayeldham on Vimeo.

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