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Fiction World War Ii

All the Colour in the World

A Novel

by (author) C.S. Richardson

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Jan 2023
World War II, Literary, Coming of Age
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2023
    List Price

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SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2023 GILLER PRIZE • The story of the restorative power of art in one man’s life, set against the sweep of the twentieth century—from Toronto in the ’20s and ’30s, through the killing fields of World War II, to 1960s Sicily.
“Bold and resplendent.” —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid
“Supremely artful.” —Toronto Star

Henry, born 1916, thin-as-sticks, nearsighted, is an obsessive doodler—copying illustrations from his Boy’s Own magazines. Left in the care of a nurturing, Shakespeare-quoting grandmother, eight-year-old Henry receives as a gift his first set of colouring pencils (and a pocket knife for the sharpening). As he commits these colours to memory—cadmium yellow; burnt ochre; deep scarlet red—a passion for art, colour, and the stories of the great artists takes hold, and becomes Henry’s unique way of seeing the world. It is a passion that will both haunt and sustain him on his journey through the century: from boyhood dreams on a summer beach to the hothouse of art academia and a love cut short by tragedy; from the psychological wounds of war to the redemption of unexpected love.

Projected against a backdrop of iconic masterpieces—from the rich hues of the European masters to the technicolour magic of Hollywood—All the Colour in the World is Henry’s story: part miscellany, part memory palace, exquisitely precise with the emotional sweep of a great modern romance.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Contributor Notes

CS RICHARDSON’s first novel, The End of the Alphabet, was an international bestseller, published in fourteen countries and ten languages, and won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Canada and the Caribbean). His second novel, The Emperor of Paris, was a national bestseller, named a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year, and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. An award-winning book designer, CS Richardson worked in publishing for forty years. He is a multiple recipient of the Alcuin Award, Canada's highest honour for excellence in book design. He lives and writes in Toronto.

Excerpt: All the Colour in the World: A Novel (by (author) C.S. Richardson)

Employing zuihitsu, a Japanese writing style characterized by both linked essays and disparate ideas, Sei Shōnagon considers her Pillow Book—a collection of anecdotes, musings about life as a courtier, favourite quotations, poetry, lists, daily affirma­tions—to be for her eyes only.

In Renaissance Italy such a personal almanac is known as a zibaldone: an informal miscellany containing everything from landscape sketches to currency exchange rates, medicinal recipes to family trees. The Florentine politician and merchant Giovanni Rucellai likens his to “a salad of many herbs.”

Such salads might fill otherwise blank scrap albums, pocket journals, or composition books. One could just as easily find them straining the bindings of pre- existing books, a time- worn university text, perhaps.

The first rowing contest between Oxford and Cambridge universities takes place in 1829. The Oxford Eight wear white shirts striped with a deep azure blue (the boat club colour of the school’s Christ Church college, which the majority of the crew attend). It is unclear why the Cambridge crew accessorize their whites with a pink /scarlet sash.

For their 1836 match, crew colours for both schools remain the same, however Cambridge includes a light- blue ribbon (at the request of some of its crew to honour their college, Gonville & Caius, and its boat club colour) on the bow of their boat. Cambridge wins by twenty lengths.

The light blue of the ribbon— Cambridge blue— is actually a shade of teal green.

Christmas, 1924. Raw winds scratch across the lake, crawl up the bluff to the Shoreview. Sleet bites at the windows. Best we stay inside, Gran says.

You at the kitchen table: eight-going-on-nine and hard at it, struggling with the dull stub of your well-chewed Dixon Classmate HB. You trace another sporting triumph as illus­trated in your Boy’s Own holiday number: the Cambridge Eight thumping Oxford by four and a half going away.

Grey lead residue and yellow shavings dirty your shirt sleeves from cuff to elbow; your tracing is a crime scene of black fingerprints.

Gran glances over your shoulder. A bit of blue, she says. My kingdom for a bit of blue.

Bess giggling under the table, clumsy fingers undoing your laces.

Your lines wander, the paper tears. JEEZBESSLEAVEOFF!

Bess dodges your glancing shoe; howls like her throat’s been cut.

Enough, Gran says.

You and Bess are bundled in your itchiest home knits and everyone’s off to the downtown emporiums.

Faber-Castell, makers of artist materials since 1761, launches its Polychromos brand of coloured pencils in 1908. The pencils, praised for their vividness, sit easily in the hand by way of a round-barrelled design turned in cedar wood. Each colour core is oil-based, making them ideal for working in fine detail.

The basic twelve-colour box includes:

101: white
107: cadmium yellow
110: phthalo blue
115: dark cadmium orange
133: magenta
140: light ultramarine
162: light phthalo green
163: emerald green
177: walnut brown
187: burnt ochre
199: black
219: deep scarlet red.

Gran buys a rag doll for Bess. For you a penknife that nestles in your palm as though made for no other.

These will need a sharpening, she says, handing you a narrow tin box. The italic swoop of Polychromos flows across the lid.

You pry open the box, revealing a beginner’s dozen of colouring pencils. You whittle the twelve to fine points, leaving a rainbow crown of shavings on Bess’s head.

You commit each pencil, colour and number, to memory.

You erase the most offending smudges and fingerprints, give your hands a scrubbing, set to reworking. Cambridge picks up the pace, bold strokes of 140 leaving Oxford’s 110 crabbing in their wake.

Winter’s jaws loosen, days grow longer; knits are folded and mothballed. Fresh breezes, open windows, clouds of midge­bugs form along the lake.

Come spring, the Shoreview uses its name to best advantage.

Years later, you will spend an evening pruning the overgrowth of notes and clippings and whatnot you’ve collected in an old textbook. Amid the amassed chaos, a blue report card you thought thrown away long ago. Dated in a teacher’s hand: June 1926.

Reading / B Comprehension good, shy to recite in class.
Penmanship / A Excellent. Cursive work graceful.
History / C Improving.
Geography / A Lovely work, esp. maps. Uses colour well.
Arithmetic / F Unsatisfactory. Consider home tutoring.
Art / B+ Lacks originality, yet industrious, exacting.
PhysTr / D Poor. Reluctant to join in.

Only someone who had taught her share of the quiet and withdrawn would have saved such a thing; would have known that despite sitting unchosen in the gymnasium or silent in the back row, this distant fourth-grader could read and write, knew his north from south, so hang the times tables.

Only a grandmother would have kept such a report card, waiting for the right time to slip it in among your notes when you weren’t looking.

The ocean sea: she cooled your sunburned knees, caressed your bony thighs; shrivelled your private bits-and-pieces. Her currents slid like silk between your fingers. When did the sea become a woman?

First year university, Comparative Literature: An Introduction; you fighting to stay awake through Homer. The Penelopiad, the Sirens, the works.

A month in, you drop the CompLit and bounce through alter­natives: antiquities (more dull Greeks); philosophy (duller still); business (of all things). Nothing sticks. You reconsider brick­laying.

American realist painter N.C. Wyeth produced some three thousand works of art and illustrated over a hundred books, including Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur, and Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. His colour plates for Stevenson’s Treasure Island are considered master­pieces of commercial illustration.

Wyeth’s palette consisted of umbers, sepias, and ochres with occasional shades of blue, red, and vibrant yellow. His compo­sitions were bold and graphic, his use of light as much drama as decoration: the principal character’s face often obscured in shadow.

When illustrating a novel, Wyeth knew he was a collaborative storyteller. Rather than rendering scenes the author had already handled in detail, Wyeth chose briefer, passing moments— Stevenson’s description of Jim leaving home is a succinct one sentence, yet Wyeth’s painting of the scene is a treatise on character, mood, and emotion.

While illustration paid his bills and made him famous, Wyeth grew to loathe his dependence on commercial work, complain­ing that any creativity was being handcuffed by the technical demands of book printing.

Bricklaying, Gran says. Over my dead body.

She stands in your bedroom doorway, surveying the piles of Boy’s Own tracings gathering dust under your bed, the doodle-filled primers heaped in a corner, the painstaking copies of Wyeth’s knights and pirates and Crusoe and Friday and young Jim, the reminders of how you managed to transform what anyone might see into what only you could see. How the faces you coloured became eccentric, interesting; the set­tings you copied became exotic, inviting; the events you traced became adventures.

It is all abracadabra, Gran says. A few strokes of line and shade and hue and the ordinary becomes your extraordinary. How you magically appear at Stanley’s elbow, holding his coat while he machetes his way to Livingstone. And isn’t that you sitting cox in the Cambridge boat?

You gather an entrance portfolio for the Fine Arts depart­ment’s admissions board.

In eighteenth-century Europe, the preferred model for train­ing fine artists relied on the use of copying. Beginning students redrew engravings of famous paintings; progressed to sketching plaster casts of statues from antiquity; finally attempted a copy of the aforementioned painting itself. Having demonstrated suitable proficiency, students then moved on to life drawing.

Once the student became the artist, copying moved from repe­tition to translation: in essence saying the same thing but using a different language. To hone his talent as a draftsman, Edgar Degas painted a version of Poussin’s The Rape of the Sabine Women. John Singer Sargent freely admitted to admiring, and referencing, various works by Velázquez.

The reclining nude of Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (1510) begat Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534) which in turn begat Manet’s Olympia (1863). Each one at once a copy and an original.

The admissions board reviews your portfolio. They make it clear that while there appears to be a balanced palette, a grasp of composition, a naive awareness of styles and isms, and certainly an ability to copy, your work is just that. Meticulous but unoriginal.

You tack hard: Could your tracings be a start rather than a finish? Must your copying go further than Boy’s Own heroics; should you be taking on history’s masterpieces, studying their whens, dissecting their whys, absorbing their hows?

You gather your portfolio, turn to leave. The faculty dean calls you back. Ever thought about art history, young man?

In 1919 art historian Helen Gardner becomes head of the photography and lantern slide department at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson Library. She begins teaching there the following year. Frustrated by the lack of a comprehensive art history text, she writes one herself.

Art through the Ages is first published in 1926. At the time it is the only single-volume work covering art’s international history. The book’s scope is exhaustive, extending from the paleolithic to the twentieth century, surveying not only western Europe’s canon but also India, the Far East, and Indigenous America. The text quickly becomes requisite, rising to the top of a student’s reading list.

Subsequent editions will be published as Gardner’s Art through the Ages. Inevitably, the academic community will shorthand the title, as in “Where are we in Gardner, class?”

New students in art history are advised to acquaint themselves with Gardner: her Art through the Ages is considered the definitive text. At your entry interview, the registrar looks up from your CV and suggests you would be wise to follow such counsel.

The bank of Gran advances the funds to buy a copy.

Addenda begin filling your Gardner’s margins. Not a page goes unmarked by your underlining paragraphs or circling words. You slip in pieces clipped from newspapers and magazines; insert obscure minutiae copied on everything from matchbook covers to napkins. There are blurred monochromes and garish plates scissored from other texts; drafts of rash opinions and unsubstantiated theories; re-created colour wheels, spectrums, optic diagrams. You recount, you diarize, numbering your entries without much order, even less index.

You long to visit the world’s grand museums: the Louvre, the Prado. In the meantime you haunt the Art Gallery of Toronto. A little less grand perhaps; for a boy from Sunnyside, cer­tainly no Uffizi. You sketch, copy, annotate your Canadians: Krieghoff’s habitants, Kane’s noble tribes, Jackson’s landscapes.

Your first note, in much-practised cursive: an encyclopedia entry re the connection between volcanoes in the South Pacific and the skies in a Turner landscape. You slip the note some­where among the Romantics.

Gran also bankrolls the purchase of a traveller’s paintbox: an elaborate wooden affair, brass handled and hinged, the size of a small suitcase.

Inside are compartments for various brushes, graphite sticks, and chalks; a cut-crystal water dish, hidden drawers for sharp­eners and erasers. Nestled under the lid, a ream of thick water­colour paper.

Ceramic trays hold small cakes of colour, though not the num­bered primaries of your coloured pencils. These morsels are Colour: titled, capitalized, transformed.

Red is no longer your 219 nor yellow your 107. Time to con­sider Sienna, Vermilion, Alizarin. To think Lemon, Cadmium, Gamboge.

Options become endless. Green could be Veronese, Viridian, Terre Verte. Blue might be Egyptian, Cobalt, Prussian; browns in Umber, Fallow, Van Dyke. Charcoal or Lamp or Ink instead of black; white could be Chinese or Lead or Titanium.

None of Gran’s RichardOfYorkGaveBattleInVain here.

Editorial Reviews


“With stunning restraint and pathos, CS Richardson has given us a portrait of one man’s journey of the soul—across decades and continents, through loss and grief and hope. Both sweeping and minimalist, All the Colour in the World is Woolfian in its brushstrokes. Quiet moments of being are given as much weight as the chaos of war, and notes on the long history of art balance the depiction of one individual life. As much poetry and mosaic as it is a novel, with not a word out of place, this book is a triumph—a masterclass in how to paint an entire world.” —2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury

“Spare, elliptical, and supremely artful . . . [All the Colour in the World] studies a man buffeted—and buffeted again—by fateful circumstance. . . . A heady celebration of art, an act and form the author respects in all its facets.” Toronto Star
All the Colour in the World will leave readers marveling at how its author says so much with so few words. . . . This novel, so simple and succinct, is a love story, a war story and at least a semester’s worth of an art history course all rolled into one. It is poetic and perceptive, tender, and touching, and a lovely work of art. . . . A beautiful testament to the enduring power and beauty of art and of love.” Winnipeg Free Press
"Poetic." The Globe and Mail

“Bold and resplendent, yet reduced to a singular essence, All the Colour in the World is a unique style piece and a moving evocation of character. Leave it to CS Richardson to find a way to paint with words.” —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid

“In saturated hues, the clicking slide show of Henry’s life reels through the carousel, flashes of brilliant images lending colour to the silvery grey-green backdrop of war in this thoughtful and beautiful book. Image after image flashes to form a kaleidoscope rendering of a fragile life—one that burns in the mind’s eye for a long time.” —Marina Endicott, author of The Difference

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