What an interesting piece! It was very unique, and I really enjoyed reading it.
I loved the opening paragraph of this story. In those few lines, so much information as to many aspects of the story are given, which is really neat. From it, I gleaned information about the setting (Susan’s room is, for the most part, orderly), the characters of Susan and Prudence, and a bit of what this story is going to be about from the artful description of the swirls.
It was really effective that you followed the opening paragraph with the painting and why Susan is painting. It really helped connect the idea of the swirling ceiling with what’s going on in Susan’s head. That being said, I found this paragraph to be slightly confusing on the first read with all the aunts and uncles and cousins. I found myself wondering how Susan’s cousin would have started Hogwarts at the same time as her as Aunt Amelia didn’t die until later in the series and doesn’t appear to be married. It wasn’t until the names of the other families were mentioned that I really understood what was going on.
One of the most interesting things about this piece is how well it connects to the real world. The idea of Susan picking up art as a means to forget the pain she has experienced with the loss of so many people in the family.
One of the greatest things about this story is Susan’s characterisation. Firstly, you have managed to completely characterise a character we really don’t see that much of in a very realistic way. As I was reading, there was no point where I doubted that this was Susan. This is especially important in a piece about a minor character, as if the character is dull or unbelievable, no one will hang on for the completion of the story. Another great thing about your Susan is how relatable she is. When she didn’t want to complete her flowers, I felt a deep connection to my own art (well, music) in that I don’t ever want to work on exercises or technique. With this, you managed to draw me further into the story, not just in the plot and characterisation, but to the level of personal connection.
Giving each of the dead family members a character was really amazing. It was great how you were able to simply describe Susan’s picture and give a full representation of the character. Even before Prudence brings the portrait to the animator, you have given them life with a few short sentences.
The dialogue in this fic felt very natural to me. There was no point where I found it to feel forced, shallow, or empty. What I loved most about it was the real mother-daughter feel that was portrayed. I could really feel the mother-daughter connection, and I really connected with it at a highly personal level.
Lastly, I really loved the idea of the animator. It was definitely a really cool way to explain the moving portraits in the Wizarding World. I thought it was really clever how the portrait wasn’t clear enough for them to talk, and I could totally see this being how it worked in the Wizarding World. I may have to steal this sometime.
Overall, I think that this fic really shone in terms of creativity. It is definitely something I have never seen before, and I am very glad I stumbled upon it.
There's a lot of poignancy packed into the small moments of this story. It's awfully understated, and you have an incredibly delicate touch with your characters... you manage to express this somewhat awful search for something she'll never have--her family back again--without veering off into melodrama. Even the crying scene with her mother was brief. This really resonated with me, because in my experience, that's how grief is in real life; it's a process you go through in order to keep moving, keep going about a mundane daily life. The grieving process itself was also incredibly realisti; I appreciated your understanding of the different things that people do when they are grieving or remembering very much. The urge to reinvent people who passed away at the age they are now rang true to my experience of things I've done to remember family members who've passed away, the fear of showing your grief to other people who were also close to the person because you don't know how they'll react... All in all, I read through each small moment of this piece, nodding my head, thinking "Wow, I've done that, and that, and oh, that too." And though my emotions weren't on a rollercoaster ride throughout the story itself, I looked back at the entire piece together after reading it and just... I'm being inarticulate here, but I can't explain the feeling I had. It's one of those pieces that I'll probably be thinking about three days from now, still in my mind and my heart. I can't say that about a lot of stories/films/poems, etc.
The only critique I have--and this is a personal reaction based on my own experiences, it's not anything concrete, so feel free to take it or leave it as you feel fit--is that I was surprised to see the lack of anger in this piece. I don't mean anger about what happened to them, or how they died... with that, perhaps the fact that she wasn't around and didn't get to know them before their deaths contributes to her distance from the emotions involved there. I meant anger at the...unfairness of it all. I know it sounds a little self-indulgent, but it is a very common reaction indeed, especially to catalyze the grieving process. You cry or scream... just get angry, and then... you do something about it. Thinking about this a little more as I write, maybe it's not anger specifically I'm looking for... rather a very strong emotion that catalyzes Susan's decision to go from painting still life portraits to one of her family. Doing big things (like painting) which focus on the people you've lost is sort of like a Pandora's box... you could easily get mired up in the grief again, it brings up so many emotions, and it's hard, emotionally draining... for me, there's always had to have been a strong catalyst which convinces me to open up that old wound and explore it again, even though I know the explorations are part of the healing process.
Sorry about the rambling in this review; I wrote this off the cuff as I reacted to the story. I hope some of it is a tiny bit helpful to you. Wonderful work, and without further ado, write on! :)
I had intended on reviewing this when I first read it a while ago... but didn't get around to it. Anyway, I loved how it was a beautiful and simple demonstration of a way of dealing with loss. You always hear that it sometimes helps people to write something down or something like that when they've been through something traumatic, so I suppose painting her family is sort of like that for Susan.
I really loved the detail in your writing, and how you described each member of her family. I thought it was interesting that she painted them as though they had aged and were still alive... it sort of shows how people continue to live on in our hearts and our memories.
You characterised Susan really well, and I loved the last paragraph, because it reminds the reader that she is coping with something really difficult, but that family can give us strength.
While I was writing this, for a while, I was worried that it would start to sound, well, a bit trite. Grief and coping mechanisms are complex and very personal, but I wanted there to be a moment of hope in the darkness for Susan. We know she lost a lot to the Dark Lord, but we also know she was a fighter, so I wanted to show both without mangling either. I'm glad you can appreciate that, because it wasn't easy. :/
When I described the members of her family, I wanted to make them about as real to the reader as they were for Susan. As you know, she'd hardly met them, and it was so long ago that she could barely remember them outside of stories from her mum, so painting them was almost a process of getting to know them all over. Hence, she used her instincts to conjecture about them.
Again, thank you for such a lovely review. Every time I get review emails, I hope they're from you. :)
Jess, that was wonderful. I loved the characterization of Susan and her mother, and how Susan wondered about her dead family and imagined what they would be like were they alive. And, I'm not gonna lie, I was also interested by the fact that you chose to show a bit of how magical portraits work. That's something I've always wondered about, really, so reading about it is fascinating. (Lo, my Ravenclaw tendencies rear their heads). It was a touching story, and one that made me think. I definitely enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much for writing this for me!
I will admit to having stalked your author page and review page to see what sort of story you enjoy. I already knew of your interest in Susan, hence my decision was made. It's really a challenge to write something un-shippy, bbut a great topic to focus on is family and how it affects others in ways we might not have considered before.
I'm happy you liked the story, and again... happy birthday!