Review of The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack

The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack has some elements that are familiar to us from movies and books. I’ll stick to the movies: Dead Again, the 1991 film starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson; What Dreams May Come, the 1998 film starring Robin Williams; and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992, starring Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder.

What are the basic premises of the reincarnation love story? As far as I can tell (commenters, please chime in) there are three.

First basic premise of the reincarnation love story:  in every past life, the characters were not just a peasant raising pigs or even a dog or a tree, but someone historically famous. Someone’s who name is still a household name today.

The twist in this book is that as the the couple remember their different lives, they also recover the skills they earned in that life. I think Ms. Womack has just added a trope that all reincarnation love stories will have to have from now on. Because Duh. If you can remember your past life you must be able to remember the language you spoke back then, and the mad skills they burn you at the stake for, right? For me, a veteran reader of reincarnation love stories, that was a refreshing twist.

 The second basic premise of the reincarnation love story is this:  if two people fall in love in their first life, they will love each other again and again, no matter how many lifetimes they share. No cheating, even after having had hundreds of lives together over a ten-thousand year span.

This is the main reason why we read these stories. It’s why we read almost any love story: we want to believe in true love, that true love is something that endures beyond us, from lifetime to lifetime, spanning the centuries. We want to believe in soulmates, in Plato’s idea that humans were once two bound together as one, with four arms and four legs and two heads, which were then split by the gods as punishment for their arrogance. The two halves, once separated, spend their lifetime trying to find each other again, and only those that succeed know true happiness.

The Memory Painter delivers on the soulmate premise, though many of the couple’s lives together did not end well. 

But where it really pays off is in how it materializes the third premise:  if someone hated you in a past life, they are going to hate you in this one. This is the part of the reincarnation plot where most books fail. The Memory Painter is both romance and a mystery, and the solution to the mystery involves a surprise twist. 

If you want a romantic romp through time with a good mystery and a surprising solution, read The Memory Painter.

(I received a galley of the book from Picador in exchange for a fair review)

Here are the details: Published by Picador in hardcover and ebook. Release date 4/28/2015, 336 pp.

PICADOR (Macmillan)







A genre-bending debut that starts with Bryan Pierce, an internationally famous artist whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret behind his success: Bryan paints the memories of other people’s lives who have lived in the past. When Linz Jacobs sees he’s painted a recurring nightmare she’s had her whole life, she seeks him out and “a mind-explosion of a journey ensues that involves time travel, mystery, love, and a whole lot of plot twists.


Gwendolyn WomackGwendolyn Womack Originally from Houston, Texas, Gwendolyn Womack began writing plays in college while freezing in the tundra at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She received an MFA from CalArts in Directing for theater and film and was a semi-finalist in the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship. She currently she resides in California and can be found at her keyboard.