#62 ~ The Forgery of Venus

March 23, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Free, Historical Fiction, LibraryThing, Reading | 1 Comment
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The Forgery of Venus: A Novel by Michael Gruber

What would it be like to live a life in which you cannot trust your memory or your senses to tell you what is true or even who you are? Charles “Chaz” Wilmot lives that nightmare in The Forgery of Venus, the latest novel by Michael Gruber. Chaz is the son of a successful artist who crafted in the tradition of Norman Rockwell but, in his son’s eyes, could have been so much more. Chaz has even more talent than his father did, but he chooses to subsist as a commercial artist taking in piece work for magazines. It isn’t that he doesn’t believe in himself. He just doesn’t believe in the worth of what is being peddled and sold as art. He’s so adamant that it costs him his wife, Lotte, and prevents him from providing the best medical care possible for his ill son. When the use of the experimental drug salvinorin causes Chaz to believe his is actually experiencing parts of Valazquez‘s life and paint exactly like the old master, he finds himself entwined in another man’s art and in the world of high stakes art forgery.

I enjoyed this novel and found its questions about the meaning of life and art very interesting. Not being able to rely on your memories, your senses, or even the answers you requested from your own very young children would be very frightening. I think that I, like Chaz, would prefer to be crazy than for that to be a permanent state of existence. The mystery behind Chaz’s life/lives was intriguing and it was difficult to put this book down. Although I understand the premise of Chaz taping his story for an old college friend, I found the voice and tone of the first narrator hard to overcome. I also found it somewhat difficult to become comfortable with Chaz, but it was worth the effort. If you enjoy Tracy Chevalier don’t mind waiting out the first narrator, you will enjoy this book.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#37 ~ Portrait of an Unknown Woman

September 6, 2007 at 2:30 am | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading, What's Up | 1 Comment
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Portrait of the Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett

I just hate it when a good book ends in a hurry. That, unfortunately, was the case with Portrait of an Unknown Woman. It tells the story of a woman, liberally educated for that time, and her relationships with her adoptive father, her husband, and a man who had been commissioned to paint the family portrait. It seems that her father and her husband are not the men she believed them to be. Throughout much of the course of the novel, Meg Griggs calls her father, Sir Thomas More, and her husband, John Clemente, on numerous rumors and outright lies. After light is shed on two more hurtful lies, Meg is able to most happily forgive and forget all wrongs all within about 30 pages. Pat happy endings don’t sit well with me, especially when the narrator in the past refused to simply let go of something much less meaningful.

Meg became an orphan at an early age. Her mother died as a result of childbirth and her father died in an accident when she was 9. Upon hearing about her situation, Thomas More lined the pockets required to formally adopt her. Although she was provided for physically and educationally equal to More’s biological children, Meg always felt a lack of love and intimacy with her adoptive parents. Meg was, however, certain that her family appreciated her knowledge and skill with what we now would consider holistic medicine. It was only after Hans Holbein arrived to paint the More family portrait and her father finally agreed to let her marry her former tutor, John Clemente, that she came to feel the love for which she had always longed.

After the birth of her son, Meg begins to have doubts about the man her father was becoming. The viciousness of the crown’s attacks on those who had fallen away from the Roman Catholic Church in favor of the new Protestant faith horrified her. She argued with More in an attempt to make him see his cruelty. After he was made King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, the level of violence escalated to burnings. She could not believe that the man she grew up with could be responsible for this. When he argued his point, Meg found that she could no longer maintain their loving relationship. To make matters worse, the way in which Meg acted upon her knowledge of political affairs led to the discovery of something about her husband that left her feeling cold toward him.

The greatness of this novel surrounds the paintings of Hans Holbein. Especially fascinating to me are the descriptions of the artist painting The Ambassadors and a second family portrait of the Mores. The scene in which the author creates the mood and atmosphere of Holbein’s painting of The Ambassadors is brilliant. It brought the world of art to life for me like never before. I learned so much just by reading the fictional thoughts and ideas that went into each element within the painting. Equally, I was delighted to read the author’s vision of Holbein’s planning and painting of a second More family portrait. In reality, this second family portrait is signed with another name, but it has long been theorized that Holbein painted this as well. She uses this portrait to betray the new family secrets that leads to the novels rushed conclusion.

Everyone likes a happy ending, but I prefer them to be earned. That being said, I do not regret reading this book at all. There is so much more to this art form than I had known. Although I’ve read The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, I really didn’t leave those books with this same sense. Bennett made me want to learn more about her characters, especially Hans Holbein. To me, this makes it an even greater shame that the ending faltered.

#34 ~ The Lady and the Unicorn

August 16, 2007 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments
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The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

This book was an incredibly fast read and a wonderful experience. Before finishing this book I thought that this was the best Tracy Chevalier novel I’ve read thus far. The characters are interesting from the very beginning and, unlike some books – not just Chevalier’s, I never really figured out “where all of this” was going until the end. That is really nice.

The Lady and the Unicorn tells the story of a randy artist commissioned to paint a series of portraits that will become tapestries for a “new money” aristocrat in Paris. [to be completed]

10/28/2007

Okay, so I never did complete this review. It was a good book. I think what drew me to it more than any other of Chevalier’s work was the transformation of paintings into tapestries. All of the characters involved were interesting and engaging. I also think that all received the future they deserved as well.

#31 ~ Falling Angels

July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

This novel is setup in a compelling way. The story is told through the point of view of eleven (+/-) narrators. You have to delve into the agenda of each character in order to determine what really is happening and why Those agendas are prone to change as the character matures or makes life altering decisions. It took no time to get engrossed in the story and I can’t tell you how many times I skimmed through the pages to come in search of the next entry by one narrator or another.

The story revolves around two families roughly in the same socio-economic class, but with Maude’s family slightly higher than Lavinia’s. It is the shared love of the cemetery that brings these young girls together in friendship, much to the chagrin of their mothers. Maude’s mother, Kitty Coleman, is an educated woman who is disappointed in what life has to hold for her has caused her to neglect those in her life who love her. She feels that her life would be so much more had she not been required to get married. Lavinia’s mother, Gertrude Waterhouse, invests all too much of herself in her role as wife and mother. She would be no one if she did not have a husband, child, or house to care for. As time goes on, each mother is secretly grateful for the presence of the other child in their daughter’s life. Lavinia has all the flare and lust for life that Kitty wishes Maude had. Maude is down to earth and more reserved, the way that Gertrude wishes Lavinia was.

As they move toward adolescence, the cemetery is no longer enough to maintain the friendship. In fact, even the reasons why each girl enjoys going there separates them. Lavinia is ecstatic when an aunt passes away because it gives her the opportunity to practice and embrace the societal standards for mourning. Maude has no interest whatsoever in mourning traditions. Her interest in visiting the cemetery is practical. She wants to learn the ins and outs of burial and, most controversially, cremation. Maude becomes weary of Lavinia’s drama and conversely, Lavinia becomes bored with Maude’s practicality. As the girls’ friendship comes to a cross roads, Kitty becomes fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement, pulling the girls and both families in with her. Their involvement in the historic suffrage march in London changes all of their forever.

In the end, I found the build up much more intense and interesting than the conclusion. Still, I enjoyed reading it. Even the most beautiful jigsaw puzzle is far more fun to put together than it is to look at.

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