Cover Image: Pure Colour

Pure Colour

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This is a beautiful and unique book that taps into the soul and makes you feel interested in every little thing again. Powerful, sparse, and one of a kind.
Was this review helpful?
Breathtaking. Like a missive from a modern mystic... So full of profound and strange thoughts about life and death, told within the framework of a simple love story. I feel hesitant to "spoil" any of the images or concepts because they're so wonderfully presented. I think we're in the midst of a great literary re-reckoning with God and spirituality, and this fits right in at the more abstract, poetic end of the spectrum. Don't come expecting a lot of story. If her earlier book asked the question "How Should a Person Be?" this asks, "Why Should a Person Be?"--with even better results.
Was this review helpful?
God is an artist and we’re just unlucky creatures living in his first draft of the world. Just like most artists, he is broke and has a vague sense of purpose. At least, that was an inkling that I felt while reading Sheila Heti’s latest novel “Pure Colour”. In his quest to find the pure colour to paint his canvas, god has been doing a lot of experiments with his creatures to perfect his first draft of the world. Or at least, he would do better when the time has come for him to start on his second draft. It was us, the creatures living in his first draft, who experienced the imperfections of existence, as well as loneliness and agonies that come with it, for the sole purpose of god to paint a better second draft. But would we still exist to experience the second draft later on?

“Pure Colour” is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of the universe, questioning god’s commands and love, either the love between god and humans or between two humans. We got Mira, a young woman who turns into a leaf, as our main character. It was not clear to me what Mira actually was. At one time, she embodies human characteristics as a part-timer at a lamp shop, a student of critique, and a daughter. Another time, she was a fish. Some other time, she becomes a leaf. It’s a reminder that nothing is permanent, either our relationships with other humans or even our states of being. Through Mira’s lens, we are being led to question god’s position in the first draft of the world, and whether we are truly free to explore the world amidst his quest to find the pure colour.

Sheila Heti’s novel is also a blend between fiction, essay and poem. At times, it could be read like fiction with its plots and characters. We could see Mira develops as a character through the death of her father and her love for Annie, to understand herself more through her interactions with other characters, the father whom she never loves in all his life and Annie who grew up in an orphanage and sees family as merely an artificial construct of society. Some other times, the language could turn into an essay, free of the constraints of characters and their emotions. In some parts, there are also short paragraphs that are simply poetic. “Pure Colour” is an experiment of form, just like god’s first draft of the world, in which a work of art could be interpreted through multiple points of view and schools of thought.

Art embodies beauty. Art is also one of the reasons why humans live. It celebrates diversity, creativity and all that constitute our human conditions. Yet not every work of art and artist is understood. Van Gogh died aged only 37 and witnessed only one painting of his getting sold all his life. He was not appreciated, as a post-impressionist painter, when his contemporaries were still in favour of realist paintings. Perhaps if we liken Van Gogh to the god in this story and post-impressionist paintings to the first draft of the world, could we say that we might still find it hard to understand god since our current technologies only allow us to appreciate realist paintings? Perhaps we’re not there yet, as we haven’t invented the right technology to understand god and his first draft of the world (as Heti inquires in this story). 

And as not everyone could appreciate art equally, perhaps not everyone could appreciate this book with its unconventional approach. It was a really slow uptake for me to appreciate each paragraph, with its deep and sublime messages. The lack of a clear plot is probably both the strength and the weakness of this book. It allows the author to abstract the story, yet also provides an unclear timeline. If you appreciate writings over plots or enjoy abstract poems, then this will be an enjoyable book.
Was this review helpful?
The way I will now push this book on any and every reader I know. It's beautiful in it's simplicity.
Was this review helpful?
This was a little too abstract and experimental for me. I can appreciate this sort of book existing and providing comfort, curiosity, or hope to people but it just didn't do that for me. I found some of the philosophical questions explored more meandering than interesting. I wasn't a huge fan of motherhood by the same author which I picked up after reading this one, so I'm thinking Sheila Heti just isn't the author for me!
Was this review helpful?
The deal: I saw people who think for a living talking about this so I nabbed an ARC from NetGalley. Basically, it’s a novel but also not a novel at all? The more you look into this, the more you will indeed talk yourself out of reading it.

Is it worth it?: This is daddy issues. This is codependency. Pretension. An extended screed about God and god and gods. This is 47 metaphors standing on top of each other under a Dries van Noten trench coat. And yet? Against all my better judgment, I kept on and somewhere along the way became fully engrossed. I both loved and hated this at the same time and actually, after reading this, I don’t really know if anyone needs yet another opinion about opinions.

Pairs well with: At its best — Ocean Vuong’s TIME IS A MOTHER. At its worst — the discourse around autofiction.

A-/D- I’m still not sure
Was this review helpful?
At heart, this is a multi-layered love story, written in a fascinatingly oblique, detached style. A short read, but one you'll be thinking about long after you're done.
Was this review helpful?
A most interesting and unique author! I don't know how to categorize her books, but why try? I know that I enjoy reading them, her sentences make me contemplate, and it's a pleasure to read.
Was this review helpful?
This book just wasn't for me. Oddly enough I liked the beginning more than I thought I would. But it was the actual story itself that I didn't quite gel with.
Was this review helpful?
Published by ‎ Farrar, Straus and Giroux on February 15, 2022

Pure Colour is a patchwork of philosophical essays dressed up as a novel. Long passages consist of a character’s internal monologue. One chapter features of a character living inside a leaf discussing existence with her dead father. In another chapter, that character is living at the end of the world, the end of the first draft of humanity. The theme that binds the chapters is the character’s understanding of human existence as a first draft and the expectation that God or the gods will do better next time.

Mira is the narrator and one of the novel’s two characters unless you count her dead father. The other character is Annie, who might or might not have loved Mira at some point. Mira believes she was “sent into the world” to answer the question, “What is the distance of love?” Pure Colour left me pondering the distance that readers should stand apart from books that ask incomprehensible questions.

When she isn’t writing nonsense, Sheila Heti proves her capacity to express intelligent thoughts in vivid prose. The second part of Pure Colour is a meditation on death and loss, on whether death is loss or something else. When Mira’s father dies, she feels his soul entering her body, an experience that motivates her to consider the nature of life and death. She realizes that she failed to understand the important things — connecting, touching, seeing — while her father was still alive. Those thoughts are expressed in prose that is precise, elegant, and compelling. The story becomes less meaningful after Mira enters the leaf, which leads to a long contemplation of the nature of human existence and love and television. Mira apparently needs to be a leaf in the first draft of humanity to understand her place in the universe, which for most people would be a real bummer. On the other hand, existing as a leaf might be peaceful until the fires and beetles arrive.

Among other tidbits of wisdom, Mira tells us that viruses are “a swarm of invading gods” and that “what’s so exhausting about being ill is that you have been invaded by gods. They are using your body to watch someone near you to see what humans are like in this draft of the world, so they can make them better in the next one.” Rude of us, I suppose, to try so hard to kill the gods that invade our body, but it’s them or us so I’m still taking my god-destroying medications.

Mira also talks about how birds are like artists and cannot be expected to love well because they apply their love to a surface, unlike bears that “join with other creatures much more directly” (presumably by eating them). Mira is undecided about fish. Her observations relate back to earlier musings about differences between birds and bears and fish and the art they will create in the second draft of life, none of which made the slightest bit of sense to me. Mira also explains why God doesn’t want people to fix the first draft of the world so he makes fixers tired. I wonder if God makes reviewers tired when they try to explain books they don’t understand.

In the age of postmodernism, novels no longer need plots. Perhaps we have entered the age of post-postmodernism, in which writers are free to string scattered thoughts together and call it a novel. I appreciated some of Mira’s thoughts, including her suggestion that children are never who parents expect them to be, and “must not be” because that is “how the world changes, how values and criticisms evolve.” She riffs on that thought for several paragraphs without adding value before she decides to be a leaf again, but only for a moment, thanks to Annie who keeps pulling her out of her leafiness. Heti’s prose and some of her thoughts have sufficient strength to earn my recommendation, but only for readers who prefer lush prose and abstract ideas to traditional plots. I think Pure Colour would have worked better as a book of essays but disguising the book as a novel at least induced me (and probably others) to read it.

Was this review helpful?
Strange doesn't even begin to describe it, in a good way. I was unsure about what to expect from Heti (her last two books were divisive, to say the least -- and I loved one, loathed the other) and this book went in directions I never would've guessed. I liked the meditations on art and life and meaning and god; I was ultimately a little annoyed by it. But I'm glad I read it.
Was this review helpful?
After loving Motherhood, I was very excited to pick up Pure Colour. Even though I did not think it possible, this book was even more different from anything I had read before than motherhood was previously. We follow our main character Mira who having lost her father lives in a world populated by bears, birds and fish. The philosophical questions raised in this book really resonated with me and it felt almost magical spending time with Mira in the leaf. I still cannot totally pin down what genre I would place this book in but I think that is where Sheila Heti's speciality lies. Exceptionally written, I think I will go back to this book in a year or two because it was just that special. Thank you to FSG and Netgalley for the review copy!
Was this review helpful?
I think this was an unfortunate case of poor timing for this book, as I just feel a didn't have the mental capacity to fully appreciate what Heti was doing. It's definitely one I'd consider rereading, as I enjoyed the writing and thought there were some really poignant observations, but ultimately it wasn't a new love for me sadly.
Was this review helpful?
I've been a fan of Heti for a while now. I've read How a Person Should Be? and Motherhood and I really enjoyed both. So, when I saw that Pure Colour was coming out this year, I was very excited.

Pure Colour follows Mira before, during, and after losing her father. The book is about living through the loss of a loved one while also exploring what it means to be in existence. It might also be an exploration of love -- the love she has for her father and the romantic love she felt/feels for Annie. 

I'm not sure I agree that this life is the first draft of existence. That might be too much of an optimistic view for me, and maybe that's why she says it. After the loss of her father, Mira often talks about this life being the first draft in a way that comforts her. 

What was comforting to me, though, was how she explained how when her father died, she felt him go inside of her. I am currently 28 years old and I am so lucky because I have never lost someone close to me. Grief and mourning are uncharted territories for me. Due to the pandemic and the general awfulness of the world, I feel like I'm often "bracing myself" for a loss. My father said that when his mother died when he was 13, he felt a part of him leave and never come back. If I am afforded a choice, I'd like Mira to be right -- that the loved one goes into you and they stay lodged inside until you die. 

At the beginning of the book, Mira works in a lamp shop where she sells very expensive lamps. The cheapest one, one that is bejeweled with red and green stones, is her favorite. I really enjoyed reading the sections where Mira was at the lamp shop and I'm not sure why. That setting was just very beautiful and almost idyllic to me. I wish the book spent more time in there.
Was this review helpful?
Grief, aesthetics, and speculative elements froth together in “Pure Colour,” Sheila Heti’s most recent novel about a young woman in the days after losing her father. Heti’s language is always fresh and unexpected, straddling the line between unsettling and profound. The reader might be tempted at times to pull away from the surreal aspects of the work (like the several pages in which the protagonist’s spirit inhabits a leaf with the spirit—memory?—of her father). But Heti’s hands are as deft as they are safe, drawing you in even when the experimentation threatens to muddle the emotional immediacy of the work. On the contrary, the experimentation and affective qualities work in tandem, like in the pages where the protagonist and father’s voices blend together in the same block of prose. 

The secondary plot of the novel—between the protagonist and a friend of hers from criticism school—feels a tad underdeveloped, although the groundwork is irrefutably there. Perhaps too many scenes in a decidedly realist landscape would’ve jostled the reader from the dream Heti was trying to create with her otherwise spiritual and philosophical considerations, but even so, one might start to wonder what the protagonist’s paramour is doing in these pages. Then again, this question is one that the protagonist might be struggling to consider herself. 

All in all, this is another excellent book from Heti, whose ever-evolving style proves that she can try new things while producing works of consistent quality. Closer to “Motherhood” than “How Should a Person Be,” “Pure Colour” would undoubtedly appeal to any Heti reader—as long as they are willing to spend hours listening to the thoughts of a leaf. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Pure Color by Sheila Heti


* Thank you to @netgalley and @farrarstrauss and @penguinrandomhouse for providing a digital copy of Pure Color in exchange of a honest review. 

What I liked about this book: 
- it is way outside my confort zone; I typically don't gravitate towards philosophical/experimental books but I am glad to have reach out to this one;
- I didn't understood every concept, but I did really enjoyed to part talking about wanting to find a new planet (like making Mars human-friendly) instead of wanting to fix our planet.
Overall, this won't be my next favorite genre, I read mainly for fun so I do prefer a more linear story.
Was this review helpful?
tysm to netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for this advanced copy. I was thrilled to receive this book because I've heard so much hype. and while the first section of the book really got me, it started to flag as the character fell into grief. something bout that section just did not grab me!!! and then I switched to an audiobook and was revived back into enjoying this. I really enjoy the style — I'm going to call it prose poetry. and I wish it almost leaned in harder? because the style is surely the most compelling element of this book to me. I'm also impressed at the length because I do think a book in this style cannot hold itself up under the weight of this type of meandering thought for too long. I think if you enjoy Maggie Nelson's work, you are likely to enjoy this book as well!
Was this review helpful?
This novel was a whirlwind from start to finish.
We are taken on a journey with Mira through many vantage points as she moves through grief and contemplates the interpersonal relationships in her life: what tethers you to this earth and to this life as we live on in this moment.

Each word is so mysteriously picked in that if you are a reader that reads for the words, this is the novel for you. Heti tackles big ideas yet never claims to have any answers. To seek knowledge from earth, the living and the dead, for ever being a student in life. And while this novel holds heavy weight, Heti has a way of making you feel light even though the most sorrowful moments. This to me makes her story ever more human and easy to latch onto. As "big brained" as Pure Colour is there is no moment that the writing felt too big to tackle. Heti shows that she is a great writer and that near perfect work is accessible to all people and being curious, being sad, missing your dad, and wanting that girl to look at you the way you look at her is what it means to live.

Thank you to Netgalley and FSG for the digital proof
Was this review helpful?
I felt as if this book were speaking to me privately and intimately, about private joys and private melancoly. I fell into a profound sense of being in a personal conversation with what I was reading on the page. I felt reminded of what I should be paying attention to in my life--both in my big life--what it's all about--and in the small daily moments--what beauty there is to be found in them.  The book worked on a pre-semantic level in me, where the meanings were deeper than words. I can't remember reading a book that accomplished this with such ease, such joy. My deep thanks to Sheila Heti for trusting the person inside her who told her to write this book.
Was this review helpful?
I want this review to be taken with a huge grain of salt as I've come to realize this strain of high brow, verbose literary fiction is just not for me anymore. I used to want to love stuff like this and I've read a couple titles I can compare this to that I had a better time with. I think if you're a fan of Ali Smith then you'd love this. I've read the Seasonal Quartet last year and the novelty of that project wore off for me with Summer, but if you love beautiful poetic writing, abstract descriptions and concepts, and characters that function more as symbols and vehicles for points to be made rather than being fully realized humans then you will eat this book up. 

It simply was not for me. I was initially intrigued by the idea of a literary novel delving into the idea of this world being God's first draft and everything eventually being swept clear and life starting over. This book also deals with art criticism, grief, and young love. This book totally has an audience, but I'm not in that crowd. If you're interested it's definitely worth checking out. My kindle told me it only took about three hours to read this, so it's a quick read.
Was this review helpful?