So, this is another one of those books that’s been on Mount TBR for what seems like forever. It’s been on and off various challenge book lists from RIP to 24-Hour-Readathon and back again but poor thing never got read. And that’s despite a strong recommendation from the Book God to whom it actually belongs.
The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford has a tantalising premise. Imagine that you are a tremendously successful portrait painter at the end of the nineteenth century, do famous and feted that you have become a bit jaded. Imagine that you are accosted outside your home in New York and offered and enormous sum of money to paint the portrait of a woman known only as Mrs Charbuque. But of course there is a catch; you have to paint her portrait without ever seeing her, based only on the sound of her voice and the answers to the questions you put to her and the conversations you may have. Would you do it?
Our hero Piero Piambo decides that he has nothing to lose, and the that the additional money he will be given if the final portrait looks like her will allow him to step back from the world of high society and paint only for himself.
In the background are his relationships with friends and lovers, the world of turn-of-the-century New York and a growing obsession with finding out more about the mysterious Mrs C, all the while dodging her deranged and jealous husband while a series of rather nasty murders is being carried to. Are all these things connected?
Well, of course they are, don’t be silly.
I really liked this book, largely because I took a shine to Piero himself, rather a decent cove who gets dragged into something even stranger than it at first appeared. It has a lovely atmosphere and there is a nicely realistic love story in the mix, it’s creepy in a cosy way, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It was one of those enjoyably comfortably satisfying books to read. For some reason it made me think a bit of Kings of Eternity though I have no idea why as they seem to have little in common; perhaps it was tone or something, not sure.
Saw the likely end coming before I got there but didn’t mind that at all as it was delivered in a nicely over the top manner.
But this is a good read for a rainy afternoon. I liked it so much I made Silvery Dude buy a copy.