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The Crack Magazine

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The Lives of the Artists by Susan Finlay

Susan Finlay is described as “an artist who writes poetry and fiction”, but don’t let that put you off, as The Lives of the Artists is a hugely compulsive memoir that riffs on some of the professional and personal episodes from her life, “I’ve always been scared of writing a memoir in case I come across as unlikable or worse still boring”. As she doesn’t come across as either, The Lives of the Artists zips by, her sharp and pithy observations taking in, among other things, everything from personal and family relationships, to the best, worst and most frustrating aspects of the ‘creative life’. Neither does she shy away from the economics of being an artist in the years since Tory governments and their toadies stripped away all the benefits that used to fund the bohemian lifestyle, “And contrary to popular opinion you can’t be really poor - or poor without a safety net - and bohemian”. She catalogues some of the art, film and music she likes, along with a catalogue of all the many jobs she’s undertaken to (try) and fund her art, “So all of this happened - or didn’t happen - on minimum wage and the thing about minimum wage is that even if you work every hour Goddess sends you, you will still only scrape by”. In the end one just can’t help feeling that her punchy energy, adaptability, and smarts have made her a success, maybe not in the way she expected, but a success nonetheless. As this ever quotable (and, yes, funny) book proves on every page, “I’m trying (although admittedly not very hard) to present myself in a magnanimous light, but sometimes it’s less a case of settling scores than setting them straight for the record (which in my case always comes in a Blue Monday-guaranteed-to-lose-you-money style sleeve)”, or, “Thomas Mann didn’t have the internet whereas nowadays you take a look at a book that thick (The Magic Mountain) and think, ‘but I could get through five Rachel Cusks in half the time’”. And you’ll get through The Lives of the Artists in double quick time too, because it’s bloody great. Totally recommended.

The Lives of the Artists– Susan Finlay – publ. JOAN - £12.00

Steven Long

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