Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Art Forger - B. A. Shapiro

The Art Forger marks B.A. Shapiro's fiction debut.

Now I must admit, I have very little knowledge of the art world. So I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this book or not.

What I found fascinating was that Shapiro wove her story around actual historical figures and events. In 1990 the Gardner Museum was robbed of a number of significant art works.  They have never been recovered. The works were collected by Isabelle Stewart Gardner - a woman who lived life on her own terms.

Shapiro's narrator and main character is painter Claire Roth. She survived a scandal personally, but the professional fallout has left her 'reproducing' famous art works for a living. When a well known gallery owner approaches her about reproducing a famous work in exchange for a show of her own work, she hesitates - but agrees. The work she'll be copying is one of Degas's - and one stolen from the Gardner. Or is it?

Shapiro's research has been carefully carried out. She describes the atmosphere, the smell, the process of painting with great detail and passion. I did actually learn quite a bit during my read, but at the end did find myself glossing over some of these passages as they seemed to cover ground already discussed. The same  process is covered multiple times.

Shapiro uses flashbacks very effectively. In bits and pieces we learn what happened to Claire three years ago and what led to her current situation.  As that story unfolds, it seems that history may be repeating itself. Has Claire made the same tragic mistakes yet again?

The third storyline is told in 1880's letters from Isabelle to her niece - her only confidant. The mystery of the current day missing paintings might be found in these missives. But, have they survived the years? I really enjoyed these letters.

But somehow, I never felt I connected with Claire on a personal level. I had a hard time buying her relationship with Aiden the gallery owner.  I found the art side of the story much more developed and richer than the characters themselves. They seemed rather wooden and somewhat cliched.

The Art Forger has been billed as a literary thriller, but I disagree. It's a good story, but isn't really a thriller at heart. The mystery aspect of the book is somewhat obvious and it was not a surprise when I was proven right. An enjoyable read, but not a standout for this reader. Read an excerpt of The Art Forger.

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