July 9th, 2016
The Short Take:
This engrossing book about the work of a Dutch female artist in 17th century Netherlands and a struggling art student more than 300 years later falls solidly in the “book club” category, but achieves far more than expected from that type of book. The writing is fluid, the descriptions vivid, and the modern day characters well drawn.
This is another of those split-time novels. In this case a three-way split: the artist de Vos’s life centuries ago; art student, Ellie, in the late 1950s; and, Ellie as a respected art teacher/curator in 2000. While those time jumps can often be annoying, Smith pulls the transitions off relatively seamlessly — you want to know more about a different time exactly as the next page takes you there.
Ellie Shipley and Marty de Groot (the latter owns the de Vos painting this book centers on) are interesting characters, likable despite their rather deep flaws and deceptions. What might seem like diversions from the story line actually reveal their isolation and dissatisfaction with their lives.
However, the sections dealing with de Vos were harder to swallow. She is a composite character of several real artists, but both her tribulations and joys seems a bit too pat.
There is quite a bit about the process of restoring old paintings and the process of forgery, as well as insights to the art dealer world. However, these were interesting and didn’t unnecessarily slow the story.
A Little Plot:
Bogged down on her dissertation on 17th century Dutch female artists, Ellie has been refining her restoration abilities through commissions from an art dealer. Then he brings her a photograph of a Sara de Vos painting and asks her to copy it. She loves the work, but knows what she is doing is wrong. Complications ensue, and follow her decades later.
Back in time, Sara de Vos’ life is in turmoil due to death and financial problems.
You can read more about Smith and his work by clicking here. By the way, if you just google his name, add “author” of you’ll get the baseball player by the same name.