As far as the gene pool goes in my family, all the artistic talent went to my sister. I cannot draw a straight line. I cannot even do justice to a coloring book. Nor do I know jack squat about art...good from bad. I know what I like, and that is about it. But despite my inadequacies, I find it all fascinating. I fantasize about being an artsy person who can properly evaluate a sculpture, or someone who could whip up a watercolor. I'd say that would fall into the same category as my fantasy of raising sheep and making sheep cheese along the roadside. Ha!
The moons aligned when I discovered this book and author at SIBA, and then later was informed that it was the She Reads selection for January (I know I'm late - sorry!). I love it when this happens.
Synopsis: In 1990, thirteen masterpieces were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. To this day, none of the paintings have ever surfaced. This is a historical fact. Our fictional story begins with Claire Roth, a "starving artist" who earns her living making reproductions of famous works of art. Claire has a tainted history in the art world, so she has every right to be concerned about where her next paycheck will come from.
Then she is approached by the suave mover-and-shaker Aidan Markel, a successful gallery owner. He would like Claire to forge a copy of a Degas painting...one stolen in the 1990 heist...in return for a significant amount of cash and a promise of a show in his gallery. When the painting (called "After the Bath") arrives at Claire's studio, however, she suspects that this presumed original is a forgery as well.
With a breathless pace, we take twists and turns through time. Back to the letters of Isabella Stewart Gardner, her eccentricities, and her relationship with Degas. Back through Claire's clouded history. Through the process of art forgery, famous forgers throughout history, and the mystery of what actually happened to the original "After the Bath".
My thoughts: It is a true testament to the author that she was able to plunge the reader deeply into the art world, the process of creating a painting (real and forged), and the personality and methods of Degas, and keep this art idiot on the hook. I found it all absolutely mesmerizing, and it made me truly interested in the subject. Not dissimilar to the way I reacted to "The Devil in the White City" and architecture. Lots of Googling ensued. I love it when there is enough fact intertwined with fiction that I can Google and learn.
But the plot was also like a thriller, with shady characters, obsessive collectors, secrets and scandal, a mystery to unravel, and a pace that left me breathless. I became almost immediately invested in Claire, who didn't always make the best decisions, but was likable and earnest and talented. At one point, I stuck my chin out and declared that if things didn't work out for this sweet girl, I was going to be pissed. That's right, I had her back! She came to life for me.
The story had all the elements that make for an incredible read...great characters, mystery and intrigue, in-depth research on a complicated topic, history, some romance, and fast pacing. This is one not to be missed!
4.5 out of 5 stars