Pure Colour

Sheila Heti

Pure Colour
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Pure Colour

Sheila Heti

Heartbreaking, exciting, profound - a short epic that reimagines what the novel can do

After God created the heavens and the earth, he stood back to contemplate creation, like a painter standing back from the canvas. This is the moment we are living in - the moment of God standing back.

In this first draft of existence, a woman named Mira leaves home to study. There, she meets Annie, whose tremendous power opens Mira’s chest like a portal - to what, she doesn’t know. When Mira is older, her beloved father dies, and she enters that strange and dizzying dimension that true loss opens up.

This is a book about the shape of a life, from beginning to end. It’s about art, critics, and ageing. It’s about the surrounding world - sky, trees, lakes, stars - and ‘the world beyond this world’, which can be glimpsed in rare moments when something shattering occurs.

Pure Colour
is a galaxy of a novel- explosive, celestially bright, huge, and streaked with beauty. It’s a contemporary bible, an atlas of feeling, and its shape-shifting, mystical form allows us to take in the whole world in one glance. Sheila Heti is a philosopher of modern experience, and she has reimagined what a book can hold.


Mira and her father live in the first draft of existence: a world like our own, but where people have evolved from either birds, bears or fish. Mira is the most intense expression of a bird, engaging with the world coolly, at a distance. Her father is a bear; consumed by love and empathy. Later, Mira attends the American Academy of American Critics. This fuels her entrancement with beauty. She also falls for an orphan, Annie, a fish absorbed with justness and the collective good, capable of being whatever people need her to be.

Pure Colour, Sheila Heti’s genre-defying fourth novel, is part allegory, part fairytale of mourning, part philosophy of art. Like Heti’s How Should a Person Be? (2010) and Motherhood (2018), it’s a difficult book to summarise. It’s not a religious novel, but it’s informed by a Jewish tradition of mystical inquiry and ethics. God is imagined by Heti like a painter, first standing back and admiring their work; then reappearing, seeing the flaws and hoping for a second chance to get it right. Heti uses this metaphysical framework, and Mira’s increasing loneliness, to pose questions about how we live and make art in this world; about the precarity of existence; about what happens when worldviews mix; and how we might redeem these conflicts through love. Heti doesn’t claim to have the answers to any of the vast questions her novel asks, but she knows, at this cataclysmic moment in human history, that it’s vital to ask them anyway.

In many ways Pure Colour unfolds like a story that might be told by a father to his daughter, made up night after night, as they go along. Completed after the death of Heti’s own father, it has a repetitive rhythm, circling in and around, that acknowledges the difficulty of moving forward through sadness, doubt and loss. Pure Colour creates its own peculiar logic, but it’s also pure magic, rousingly imaginative and frequently profound – full of pure colour and feelings and the things that matter most.

Joanna Di Mattia is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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