From inside the front cover:
In the turbulent years between the wars, nothing in Berlin is quite what it seems.
Not for Emmeline, a wayward young artist freewheeling wildly through the city in search of meaning. Not for Julius, an eminent art connoisseur who finds it easier to love paintings than people. And most definitely not for Frank, a Jewish lawyer who must find a way to protect his family and his principles as the Nazis begin their rise to power.
But the greatest enigma of them all is Matthias, the mercurial art dealer who connects them all. Charming and ambitious, he will provoke a scandal that turns all of their lives upside down.
What drew me to this book, apart from the gorgeous cover and the quote from Mr William Boyd, one of my faves, is that this story is based on true events. So with a mix of that, historical fiction and art I was looking forward to reading it.
The book is divided up into 3 sections. Julius, Emmeline and Frank (note the nice detail of the differently headed chapters) allowing the reader to meet each character and learn of their story. Set with the backdrop of 1920’s/30’s Germany with the financial crisis of the time and the emergence of Nazi rule, the book follows these fictional characters within the context of the real life story of the van Gogh forgery case.
Julius is an art authenticator and has written a best selling book on Vincent van Gogh. He loves art more than anything. Definitely more than his wife, even more than his son??
In this first part we meet the character of Matthias, a seemingly charming and enthusiastic young man ready to learn and make a name for himself in the art world. He approaches Julius and ask him to look at a painting he has recently acquired to seek his opinion. We soon learn however, that maybe this young man is not as naive as he seems and we get the impression that Julius is being taken for a ride. We also meet the young Emmeline. Head strong and desperate to experience the world outside of her comfortable home life.
The story grows, slowly in some parts, but always eloquently and with a wonderful lightness of touch even with the horrendous events happening in Berlin at this time. I felt for all the characters except Matthias as you only really learn of him through the effect he has on others, rather than learn anything about him from himself. This obviously helps with his mysteriousness. Because of how the characters were written and its time, place and links to real life events I could also see how it had a quote from William Boyd. I enjoyed the stories of each character told within the main story of the book and particularly liked the touching relationship between Frank and his young niece.
This is a slow moving book with a simple main story line but has some lovely written and well researched characters and a warm and believable feel.
There is a nice interesting explanation of the story of the van Gogh forgery case that inspired the writing of this book.
This book is available now and is published by Virago.
A completely fascinating novel about the early 20th century art world and its many dubious machinations. Expertly researched, compellingly narrated and full of potent resonance today (William Boyd)