The Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award
The RSL Encore Award
On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. Elspeth 'Knell' Conroy is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece.
But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is 'The Ecliptic', and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England?
A resounding achievement … Wood is the real deal: scrupulous in his choice of words, adroit with plot, assiduous about drawing character and engagingly pursuing an ambitious theme. On this last point, The Ecliptic is one of the most absorbing explorations of the artistic process that I’ve ever read in fiction … it is rich, beautiful and written by an author of great depth and resource who is clearly giving his all in the service of that most taxing of artistic endeavours: the writing of a fine novel.
Full of suspense and beautifully written. Superbly imagined. A terrifically gripping and playful book.
Exceptionally well done, a concentrated portrait of a lost time and place … Entertaining and inspired … Wood's novel stands comparison with the work of John Fowles.
Wood’s fiction is playfully experimental, but never loses sight of its primary purpose: to entertain.
A beautiful book … it’s about the two most unwieldy kinds of alchemy, art and love. The bold intelligence of the voice would have been enough to sustain the book, but it also provides all the pleasures of obsessions, rich detailing of the Sixties world and plot-twists.
Best Books for Summer 2015
A wonderfully written, beautifully detailed, hallucinogenic novel. Wood adds layer upon layer ... all of which adds to this rich, strange and clever novel. Verdict: 5 out of 5.
Deftly combining detached humour with tragic overtones, The Ecliptic is both a compelling story and an absorbing meditation on the creative process.
Benjamin Wood is a novelist to watch. This is not a novel that gives itself up easily to the reader. But it’s well worth the wrestle.
An exhilarating, earthy, cerebral, frank and unflinching portrait of an artist … No pale shadow of Wood's excellent debut novel, this soars like some exotic creature over the Sea of Marmara … A masterfully paced and suspenseful read.
There are echoes of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries here and there in the way that The Ecliptic engages both heart and mind, and Wood has something of Donna Tartt’s skill for blending big ideas with properly tense thriller plotting. Throw in sumptuous prose and some smart narrative sleight of hand and you have a literary novel that will surely stand the test of time.
The Ecliptic is a stunning novel. In his protagonist, Wood has created one of the most human and moving characters in recent fiction, and his depiction of the 1960s London art world is as compelling as his eerie vision of an artists’ colony that exists outside of the rules of the modern world. A gorgeous and harrowing work.
Emily St. John Mandel,
author of Station Eleven
Both profoundly moving and as gripping and unputdownable as a thriller. Outstanding.
S. J. Watson,
author of Before I Go to Sleep
A flawless meditation on creativity and the psychic toll it takes. Not only is it beautifully written, but there’s a bloody good twister of a plot that rewards you well beyond the final page.
author of The Miniaturist
The Ecliptic traces a compelling dual arc through the 1960s art world and the psyche of a talented but traumatized artist. Mysterious and filled with beautiful imagery, the novel transports us to a secret, slightly surreal, and increasingly strange artist colony, before finally revealing—in its breakneck final pages—the full extent to which life takes a toll on art, and art takes a toll on life.
The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty
Exquisitely well-made—not so much written as it is carved by the sharpest of instruments. Dense blocks of gorgeous prose, sculpted so that every edge, line and surface reveals the intelligence within. A highly pleasurable and thought-provoking meditation on art and creativity.
author of Interior Chinatown
Here is such an intense evocation of the hell of creativity that one might begin to wonder whether art is even worth it. Well, yes, it is, case in point being the novel itself: whatever debilitating mental toll it must have taken on Benjamin Wood to sustain such vividness and intelligence for its entire length, we can all be grateful for the result. Terrific.
author of The Teleportation Accident
One of the most extraordinary novels I've ever read. The final pages of my paperback are smudgy with tears.
A rich, intricate and layered work.
An intelligent examination of creativity, psychology, and a riveting mystery … [Wood is] an energetic stylist and skilful storyteller … this ambitious novel will haunt the imagination long after the final page.
Independent on Sunday
One of the most underrated novels of the year; Wood manages that elusive balance of writing exquisitely while also having a proper good old-fashioned plot complete with twists and turns aplenty. A brilliant book to settle down with and read in one sitting.
Elle, Best Books of 2015
Wood sows his novel with enigmas, conspiracies and coincidences ... What makes The Ecliptic worth reading is Wood’s contemplation of the sources of artistic inspiration ... In this novel art is the lure that drives people closer to death’s embrace.
Wall Street Journal
With its architectural structure, dramatic pacing, enthralling plot, and lush landscapes, Wood’s novel features beautifully written, meticulously perceived observations about art and artists ... It is unusual and disquieting.
In incisive prose, Wood explores how the human mind deals with the arduous work of creating art. A stunning novel, likely to linger long in the reader’s memory.
Wood loops back to tell the story of the tragedies and betrayals that have shaped Elspeth’s artistic spirit, and the importance of the “ecliptic” [...] to her creative imagination. That’s just the beginning of the puzzles he sets forth and solves in this original and suspenseful novel.
Captivating … haunting… From the very start Elspeth’s magnetic voice draws us into this space where time stands still … Her cadence goads you on to the next sentence, makes you loath to put down the book and break the melody.
Breathtaking is a weighty word to describe a novel, but Benjamin Wood's The Ecliptic merits such an adjective ... There is no doubt that [Wood] possesses a vivid imagination, but it is his exploration into the catacombs and crevasses—the self-doubt and neurosis of an artist’s mind—that makes the novel so captivating. After a series of labyrinth-like twists, turns, and dead ends, there is nothing left to do but surrender to the story.
A thrilling novel that combines fine writing with a propulsive plot, The Ecliptic will rightly appeal to fans of Patricia Highsmith and Donna Tartt. It confirms Benjamin Wood’s place as one of Britain’s best young writers.
author of High Dive
Exceptional and beguiling, never less than in the ascendant from the first page to the last. The kind of book that will keep revealing its powers for a long time to come.
author of Bed
A tour de force.
author of Coincidence
Tremendous stuff, engaging, persuasive and full of life ... The pages turn so smoothly – I rattled through its 465 pages in a couple of (bank holi)days – that quibbles flee. Indeed, its craziness is much of its appeal.The Ecliptic is a satisfying, irresistible novel with that combination of storytelling punch and literary sensibility which can, with luck, be the sign of a big commercial and critical success. I was going to say that it marks Wood out as a writer to watch, but that usually seems to me to be code for “this book isn’t all that good, but the next one might be.” Better instead to say that he’s a writer to read.
Benjamin Wood constructs his story carefully so that the past reflects meaningfully upon the present in Elspeth’s journey as an artist. All the while it has tremendous momentum and drive making it compulsively readable. The closest comparison I can make for Wood’s novel is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History for the way in which it deals with high concepts about art in a way which is utterly unpretentious and tells a cracking good story at the same time. The ending has left me thinking hard about how we create and commune with art. The Ecliptic is a passionate, invigorating and expertly conceived novel.
Eric Karl Anderson,
The Lonesome Reader
In novels about art it is often the art which is missing. That is not the case here. The description of detail and aesthetic effect—the language of gesture, composition, and perception—is a challenge Wood overcomes. Likewise, Wood’s phrasing and, yes, painterly description of Conroy’s environment. The “steel-blue water roiled quietly and a clutch of white sloops lilted on their moorings”; “Dust clotted the daylight. Fingerprints deadened the balustrade”; Handwriting in “an upright style that never broke the borders of the rulings, whose letters crouched like tall birds herded into crates."
The Ecliptic is an intricate, ambitious, and compelling novel of creativity, ambiguity, instability, and the nature of representation. The fictional truth of the ecliptic and Wood’s handling of the dialogue between art, life, and the artworld is superbly realised, with resonances building throughout the novel. Moreover, the characterisation of Elspeth Conroy is, for the most part, spot-on: her anxieties, false-starts, resistance to the commercial, her youthfulness, and response to success all ring true and underpin the abstract concerns of the novel. All in all, The Ecliptic is a very good novel and comes highly recommended.
Words of Mercury
No novel I have ever read has better opened the layers of the need, the inspiration and even the techniques of artistry than The Ecliptic.
San Diego Book Review