Having read Georgina Harding's first two novels, The Solitude of Thomas Cave (a book group choice) and The Spy Game (there's a post on it here), I'm familiar with - and an admirer of - her style. She has a way of letting a story unfold in an unforced manner, and her books are marked by a stillness and clarity, a studied calm underlying a depth of restrained emotion that comes through strongly in the latest one, the Orange prize shortlisted Painter of Silence.
This begins in the early 1950s with an unnamed young man, without possessions or identification, collapsing on the steps of a Romanian hospital. It is soon clear that he is both deaf and mute, and as such, as he is nursed back to health, he becomes in a way a blank canvas onto which others can project what they may wish him to be. As his strength returns, one nurse, Safta, eventually brings him paper and pencils and encourages him to draw, and slowly and painstakingly his past and his memories begin to appear on the page.
The images which take shape with such deft and purposeful strokes are of a place which Safta recognises: her home, Poiana, a manor house deep in the country which she left before the war. The young man, Augustin - known as Tinu - was her childhood friend, the son of a servant, and growing up beside him "in the days before she herself learned to speak, little Safta had come to know him with a quick intuition as if he was the silent side of her self". This closeness continued until late adolescence when the outside world intruded and war changed everything. As Augustin convalesces and he communicates to Safta the things he has tracked her down in order to tell her, so we see their life in pre-war times and we have a glimpse of a future for each of them.
There is a limpidity and a delicacy to the book that you'll recognise from Georgina Harding's earlier work, and she makes powerful use of the contrast between that muted softness and her subject matter - dislocation and loss, an outsider who is an observer of both the horrors of war and of the lesser hurts of ordinary life. That Augustin is locked in by his sensory impairment makes his experiences and their eventual expression all the more intense, and this is a fine book whose understatement and restraint lets it speak and ensures it will be heard.