Book review: The Luminous Solution

A wide-ranging contemplation on art and artistic expression.

In her preface, Charlotte Wood confesses that while other people’s creative lives have always fascinated her, her latest book is a synthesis of her own creativity, one that spans over 30 years of fiction writing. Wood is quick to clarify, however, that The Luminous Solution: Creativity, Resilience and the Inner Life was not simply written for artists and writers; indeed she believes that any imaginative form of exploration (through ‘making or building anything that wasn’t there before’) is within everyone’s remit.

Drawing on decades of experience as well as her doctoral study, Wood breaks the book down into 17 chapters that include ‘Fertile Ground (Nourishing the inner life)’, ‘The Getting of Wisdom (Finding your own teachers)’, ‘Afraid of the Dark (Anger as creative fuel)’ and ‘The Struggle, Despair and The Luminous Solution (Nine creative kinds of creative thinking)’.

As she takes to the secateurs in her overgrown garden during a weekend in lockdown Wood elaborates on the deceptively simple analogy of nurturing one’s inner life. ‘Any garden needs planning, boundaries, patience. It needs protection from invaders and at the same time acceptance of constant change.’

She advocates for stillness, as a antidote to all the hurly burly of capitalism. For her, stillness is not a void, but a ‘well’ to draw on. She acknowledges how ‘the threats of exhaustion, distraction and fear’ are the ‘eternal enemies of art making’. But how do we feed an inner life? One suggestion is to propagate, as much as possible, a tranquil physical surrounding.

The Luminous Solution is a book of ideas, written in Wood’s characteristically elegant form. As a collection of essays it canvasses the intertwined dark and light of writing: the moments of ecstatic inspiration and its shadow of ennui and anxiety.  She’s a close observer and reader and the book bears testament to her questioning, lapidary style of thinking.

Read: Book review: The Shadow House, Anna Downes

Several chapters refer to her bestselling 2015 release, The Natural Way of Things, but Wood is generous with marshalling other writers (past and present) to help her clarify or further her expositions, including advice from Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf, Helen Garner and Michelle de Kretser. I like this one from Flaubert, in particular: ‘Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeoisie, so you may be violent and original in your work’.

By exploring different types of creative thinking and doing (and not just through writing), Wood is helpful rather than prescriptive. Though it includes different methods for resolving roadblocks, The Luminous Solution is more than just a how-to book; it’s a wide-ranging contemplation on art and the artistic expression.

The Luminous Solution: Creativity, Resilience and the Inner Life
By Charlotte Wood
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
ISBN: 9781760879235
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256 pp
Release date: September 2021
RRP: $32.99

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She's the outgoing books editor of The Big issue. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press. Her next collection, Decadence, will be published in July 2022. Twitter: @thuy_on