The Painter's Friend

Howard Cunnell

08 July 2021
429 pages


The working-class painter Terry Godden was on the brink of his first success. After a violent crisis, he finds himself outcast. Nearing sixty and with modest means, he has retreated to a small island.

The island seems to be a closed, cold place. As the seasons turn, Terry comes to see that he is one of many people who have sought refuge here. These independent outsiders, all with their own considerable struggles, have made a precarious home.

The island is owned by the businessman and art collector Alex Kaplan. His decision to enforce a rent increase as he seeks to improve his property looks set to destroy a community that cannot afford to lose the little they have left. As an artist, Terry believes making the invisible struggles of the island visible to the world will help – but will his interference save anybody other than himself?

Set among the marginalized and overlooked, The Painter’s Friend is a book about the human cost of gentrification. It also explores the role of art in protest, and asks who gets to be an artist and what they owe in return. Written with visual lyricism and driven clarity, Cunnell’s urgent novel casts an unflinching eye on the injustice of our age.