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Reflections of loss and grief

Pinky is a recluse who rarely leaves the suburbs. When her husband, Pasha, goes missing and everyone assumes the worst, she sets off to find him. In her search, she encounters a dream-like landscape: the ancient interior of the city she was born in, the bright farms and fields of Pasha’s childhood and the dark wilderness of the mountains, where she must finally confront her fears.

Here we highlight 7 quotes from the book where she experiences emotions such as loss and grief.


‘I told him you had disappeared soon after he last saw you. He said, ‘I’m sorry for you,’ and looked sadder still. I said I was searching for you because everyone else except your mother thought you were dead.’

‘Alone again in the car I saw a vision of you with the blood pouring out, black as oil, I could see the stars in it. Your body sinking into the blacksand but for a finger or knee or shoulder. The blood was then blue then purple then red as the sun went up.’

‘When I opened my eyes the stars were gone.

Front cover of Still Life
Still Life || Anoushka Khan

We were no longer ghosts under an ancient sky but humans with a beginning and an end, clothed in our machine-spun fabrics and so pale in the white light from the city below.’

‘There is dignity in death’, my father said. ‘Even decay is beautiful.’

‘You weren’t sitting there smiling and smoking. There was no one inside.’

‘I stopped in the middle of the bridge and looked carefully at the sharp rocks far down, hoping not to see you but wanting not to miss you.’

‘Then I sucked my breath in and ran screaming into the shadowy thing and it exploded around us. Inside it were pieces of light and dark that flew out, so many of them that they were all I could see.’


Still Life is an experiment with visual storytelling, using pictures and words to create a world that is both unsettling and extraordinary.

Inspiration for your next Illustrative and Writing Project

Still Life, by Anoushka Khan is an experiment with visual storytelling, using pictures and words to create a world that is both unsettling and extraordinary. Part road trip, part existential thriller ,it seeks new ways to look at love, isolation, memory and loss, asking what connects us to each other and to the natural world, and how we are governed by impulse we barely understand.

Today we have a chat with the Anoushka to understand how she worked on this masterpiece, and her inputs!

Front Cover Still Life
Still Life || Anoushka Khan

When did the idea for this book first come to you?

I was doing the washing up a few years ago and I suddenly thought, I’ll do a novel with paintings! I’d seen that paintings with words scrawled on had the power to move me, as did children’s picture books, and I wanted to recreate that simplicity and intensity.

What is your writer-(and illustrative) routine? 

I’m lucky enough to have a home office; I shut the door, look at the artwork I’ve already made as a run-up, and then dive in. I only really get snatched hours here and there.

Was there a different element or zone you had to bring yourself to whenever you’d get down to work on this book?

The only way I can work is with my headphones on playing music—it shines a mental spotlight on the work and makes everything else disappear. I feel like music made this book, it’s far and away the biggest influence on my work.

What was the most challenging, and was the most rewarding experience of this project?

The most challenging aspect was probably my relative ineptitude with technology; I don’t know how many hours I spent trying to figure out how to lasso images in Photoshop or compress PDFs or whatnot. The most rewarding? A couple of people I know nearly cried when they read the book. I was so happy that it made a mark.  

What is one thing you would, and one thing you wouldn’t recommend to anyone wanting to work on a book?

Enjoy getting lost in the process, rather than looking to the horizon. Try not to compare your work to others.

How difficult was it to illustrate such dark and complex emotions?

It’s really useful to be able to deploy words as well as images to convey mood or tone, and in some ways you can use one to balance out the other. And you can make it cinematic: focus on the character’s feet or a bowl of fruit while a particularly disturbing train of thought or difficult conversation is taking place. There is a darkness that permeates the book, but it’s from melancholy and mystery rather than bleakness—I think that would be much more difficult to sustain.


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