B.A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger—the She Reads Book Club pick of the month–calls herself a cowardly writer. “Some writers sit down and begin a novel without knowing where it will end, trusting the process to bring their story to a satisfying conclusion,” she says. “But not me. I don’t have the courage to begin a book until I know there’s an end–and a middle too. I need an outline that allows me to believe my idea might be transformed into a successful novel.” Which is to say that, even after writing five other novels, it took her a long time to pen this one.
The Art Forger emerged from Shapiro’s fascination with a real-life art heist, which remains unsolved. She began her writing career when she left the workforce after the birth of her second child. Unsure what to do after leaving her high-octane job, she posed the question to her mother, who asked, “If you had one year to live, how would you want to spend it?” Shapiro answered, “Write a novel and spend more time with my children.”
So that’s what she did. She now lives in Boston with her husband and dog. You can visit her online at bashapirobooks.com.
From the back cover: On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.
The depth and breadth of research behind this story is phenomenal. The best part about it is the glimpse it gives readers into the inner workings of the modern art world (and a few peeks into its not-so-modern past). While technically this was a fine piece of fiction–the story spools out smoothly and the plot provides plenty of interesting twists–I wasn’t able to get into it as much as I would have liked. Creating a bond-able protagonist is a tricky thing, and for some reason this one just didn’t grab me.
In addition, one of the plot devices–old letters from Belle Gardner to her beloved niece, Amelia–strained credibility. It seems unlikely the details revealed there would have been put in a letter from an aunt to a niece, even a favorite niece who was instructed to burn said letters upon reading.
On the other hand, books that blend fact and fiction always capture my fancy, and I did enjoy this foray into the art world. I will never again visit a fine arts museum or look at a Degas in quite the same way–and that is altogether a good thing.
3.5/5 stars–an imaginative foray into the art world
Note: some readers may be put off by some sexual content and four-letter words.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for providing me a copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.