Monday, April 26, 2021

The Portrait by Ilaria Bernardini


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It's taken me a bit to finish this novel, but that's okay because it's not a novel to rush through. The Portrait a character driven story about two women, one man, and a lifetime of love. 

Valeria Costa is a famous writer who has had a decades-long affair with Martin Acla. Now Martin has had a stroke and is in a coma in his London home. His wife, Isla, is a famous portrait artist, and she, along with their three children, are at their home in London with Martin as his days wind down. 

Valeria is bereft and is desperate to see Martin again. She writes Isla, asking to have her portrait painted. This way, she can get into the house, and hopefully see Martin. Isla agrees, and Valeria temporarily moves to London to have her portrait painted. 

Valeria goes to a lot of trouble to see Martin! But he is her love, and their relationship goes back decades; they've been secret lovers almost as long as Martin and Isla have been married. Flying around the world, meeting each other for nights and weekends, Valeria and Martin had a deep connection and love for each other. Valeria knows everything about Isla's life with Martin. 

As Valeria visits the home, and sits for her portrait, she's drawn deeper into the lives of Isla and her children. Martin is only a few floors up, on a ventilator, being monitored by nurses; completely unaware his two lives have now come together. 

I kept looking at the cover; intrigued by the portrait. It's haunting, to be sure. Valeria is one complex character, as is Isla. The novel moves back and forth between the portrait sitting, Valeria's youth and her troubled relationship with her mother, to her times with Martin. She is constantly framing her life and observations into short stories (which she is famous for)-which, if you look closely, tell the tale of her love affair with Martin. 

Throughout the novel, I kept asking myself if Isla knew who Valeria was-did she know about the affair? You don't know for sure until the end, and oh my, that's a pretty good ending. It takes a bit to digest and understand how the story all comes together. You will spend time thinking about these two complex women.

A big thank you to Pegasus Books for a review copy. This is not my typical novel, but I'm so glad I had the chance to read something so character driven and complex. Author Ilaria Bernardini is a well-known Italian author, this is her first American debut. 

Rating: 4/6 for a character driven novel about grief, love, death, art, aging, life, and forgiveness. A slow build that grips you and doesn't let go. An ending that takes your breath away. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

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