“You can hang me on the wall,” the Count said, “and see what others have to say about me.”
As always, the Count’s expression was frozen in time, forever unchanging. Even so, Giovanni could imagine the Count’s beaming smile, overly satisfied with himself.
(from Botticelli’s Bastard, page 47)
Quick summary: In Botticelli’s Bastard, Giovanni Fabrizzi, an art restorer carrying on the family business in London, finds an unsigned portrait that appears to be from the Renaissance period in a collection of paintings left to him by his father. Giovanni is in a rough spot in his life; still grieving the death of his first wife, he is cold and distant to his new wife, Arabella, who is 30 years his junior, and he is frustrated with having to move his studio to a newer, more secure building in a different area of London. So it’s not surprising that he thinks he might be going crazy when the portrait of Count Marco Lorenzo Pietro de Medici begins talking to him. But when the Count tells him that his portrait was painted by Botticelli and later stolen by the Nazis during World War II, Giovanni has a mystery on his hands — one that takes a toll on his relationship with his wife and his son, dredges up long buried secrets, and forces him to examine his conscience and do what is right.
Why I wanted to read it: I was curious about the mystery behind the painting and its World War II story.
What I liked: I’m not generally a fan of magical realism, and I had no idea the book involved a talking painting. At first I was a bit apprehensive, but the relationship and conversations between Giovanni and the Count were my favorite parts of the book. It was an interesting way to detail the history of the portrait, and the Count’s arrogance, wisdom, and loneliness made him an especially intriguing character. The book is fast-paced, gives readers a working knowledge of the world of art history and art restoration, and takes them on an adventure with Giovanni as he attempts to discover what happened to the painting during the Nazi occupation of Paris, how it ended up in his family, and who it really belongs to now.
What I disliked: I was a little surprised there was no author’s note at the end detailing his research and separating fact from fiction. I was especially curious about the book cover image, as it’s meant to be the portrait of the Count.
Final thoughts: Stephen Maitland-Lewis does a great job bringing art to life in Botticelli’s Bastard and blending magical realism with historical and mystery fiction. Although the novel isn’t overly suspenseful and I wasn’t surprised by how the plot wrapped up, Botticelli’s Bastard was an enjoyable book. While the horrors of the Holocaust overshadow the story, Maitland-Lewis keeps things from getting too heavy, with the Count providing moments of humor throughout the book. I settled down with Botticelli’s Bastard and a cup of coffee and spent a delightful afternoon with Giovanni on his journey from present-day London to as far back as the Renaissance era to his family’s experiences during World War II, ending with a momentous decision that has huge ramifications for the art world and his own understanding of what is right and just.
Disclosure: I received Botticelli’s Bastard from the author for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.