Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Title: The Art Forger
Author: B.A. Shapiro

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Boston / Art World / Art Forger / Art Dealer / Literary Thriller / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Degas)
Publisher/Publication Date: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (10/23/2012)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- I stayed up all night to finish because I had to know.
One-sentence summary: Boston artist Claire Roth, shadowed by scandal, makes her living selling reproductions of famous paintings when she's asked to forge a famous stolen painting and discovers it might actually be a forgery.

Do I like the cover?: By itself, I do -- before finishing the book, I liked it -- but upon finishing, I feel like it doesn't capture the heroine's flat at all (which I presume it is meant to evoke).

First line: I step back and scrutinize the paintings.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is a zippy fast, fascinating kind of thriller of art, deceit, and forgeries!

Why did I get this book?: Boston and art, and the fact it features my favorite museum.

Review: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of my all-time favorite places on the planet. It's this funky, twisty, non-traditional art museum, where pieces crowd the walls in a random mish-mosh, without placards, placed there by Isabella herself. In 1990, thirteen pieces of art were stolen from the museum in what is now the largest unsolved art heist in history. Beautifully and chillingly, the museum has the empty frames still hanging on the walls.

Shapiro's novel merges that historical fact with her own imaginings about one of the 'missing' pieces of art (she creates a fictional Degas painting to use at the center of this story). Claire Roth is a Boston-based painter shadowed by scandal, snubbed by the art scene. Unable to sell her original art, she instead creates high quality reproductions of classic art for an online company, and while it pays her rent, the work depresses her. Aiden Markel, a well-known Boston art dealer and an acquaintance familiar with her past, appears one day with a stunning offer: make a reproduction of one of the stolen Gardner Degas paintings to earn a one-woman show at his gallery. The original painting, he promises, will be returned to the Gardner Museum as well.

Understandably torn, Claire eventually agrees but finds herself doubting the authenticity of the Degas in her studio. Her research on the painting leads her to learn a shocking amount about art forgeries, including the theory that many 'originals' gracing museum walls might be forgeries themselves.

Lest you think I'm giving away the entire book, that chunk of plot all occurs in the first 70 pages. What happens when Claire finishes the painting is where the book gets thrilling, although that isn't to say everything before it isn't enjoyable. I loved learning about the world of forgeries, the legality of reproductions,

Interspersed between Claire's story -- now and three years earlier, during her infamous scandal -- is a one-sided correspondence from Isabella Stewart Gardner to her (fictional) niece. I admit, I groaned when I hit the first letter. At the moment, I'm so over that sort of dual story line as it seems to inevitably end with the heroine being the great-great-great something of one of the historical figures. However, despite my initial irritation, the letters weren't as jarring as I anticipated and they did, in fact, offer a way to show the 'truth' of the story that wouldn't have been possible. Happily, Claire isn't the great great etc of anyone, either.

Although this is described as a literary thriller, I found it to be far less nail biting than Jennifer McMahon, for example, which is fine by me. It was still exciting and interesting. I don't think you necessarily need to be an art fan to appreciate the story -- Shapiro shares enough about how art is made and the visceral sensations associated with making art and art products to give the reader a sense of being there. A fascinating, fun read -- and a wonderful introduction to a historical figure I admire and a place I adore.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Art Forger to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 11/9.


38 comments:

  1. It must be pretty darn compelling if you stayed up to late because you "had to know."

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    1. I was dying to find out the 'twist', or, I suppose, the 'truth' -- and it was worth it. Very fun!

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  2. I typically enjoy stories that center around art. I checked out the link to the museum and if I ever visit, I will for sure pay it a visit. Looks like an awesome place.

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    1. Ti, it is an AMAZING place. I want to live there. Even without knowing it, however, the book is still enjoyable as it is less about the place and more about this imaginary piece of art and the world of forging -- fascinating stuff.

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  3. Everyone is RAVING about this one. I MUST READ IT!!

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    1. You really do -- it's great fun and so interesting!

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  4. I started this one a few weeks ago before life got so darn crazy around here. I didn't get far enough into it to have to stay up all night (and it was relatively late as is), but I definitely need to go back to it. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. It wasn't until more than 100+ pages in when I finally got 'hooked' -- the book was good and I was enjoying it, but between the three story lines -- Claire now, Claire three years ago, and Isabella's correspondence -- I wasn't totally hooked. When it clicked, though, it clicked.

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  5. That's awesome that it's set in a place you love so much! I'm not a big art person, so I'll probably give this a pass. I'm still trying to get up the motivation to work through Iain Pears' old art mysteries.

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    1. The forgery part was pretty fascinating -- maybe interesting to anyone? -- I was about to say, 'not to force this one you' but why am I lying? I'm all about making everyone read all the things I like! ;)

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  6. I'm not that interested in art, but this sounds well worth a read.

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    1. Sam -- there's kind of connection with the heroine's dark scandalous secret and her current job that I found interesting, the idea of what we own, creation, etc -- I think even those not keen on art my enjoy it!

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  7. This one sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for the review and giveaway.

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    1. I'm so glad they offered a giveaway copy - I hate it when I can't give on to people!

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  8. I am excited to read this one! I really enjoy the format and content of your reviews. Thank you for doing them!

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    1. Kirsten -- thank you, I appreciate that! I hope you keep reading -- and let me know if you've got a blog I can follow in return! :)

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  9. Can't wait to read my eGalley. Glad u enjoyed it.

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    1. Diane -- it is worth it -- a fun read!

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  10. I always enjoy books about art - I had considered reviewing this one but ultimately ended up passing because I am just a little backlogged. I will certainly enter the giveaway tho! Thanks.

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    1. If it didn't have the ISG connection I might not have been so seriously motivated, but given that, there was NO WAY I could have passed! ;)

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  11. Sounds a very good read. Dont count me in though (overseas)

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  12. I signed up! I don't sign up to a lot of give-aways, but this one sounds like something I might like. Last year I did a whole personal reading challenge just about the art business. Such a fascinating topic!

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    1. Hooray! I'm glad you did -- this was so interesting -- as I mentioned to someone above, there are lovely intersections between the heroine's scandal and her current work that I didn't mention for risk of getting spoiler-y -- but were so v fascinating in addition to/aside from the whole thing about art and forgery.

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  13. I know what you mean about the great-great familial thing, it's used so much it's lost its power. The book interests me, though, even if I wasn't aware of the letters before. It's surprising that in real life those artworks have not yet been found!

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    1. I know, I felt like such a brat for sulking about it, too! The mystery of this theft is so fascinating/depressing/horrifying. Shapiro alludes to some ideas about who/what's happened to the art. Chilling!

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  14. Replies
    1. It's a good one -- just have lots of time so you don't have to stop! ;)

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  15. I unexpectedly received this one in the mail, but I think you've convinced me to take a closer look at it.

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    1. Do -- super fast read but very engrossing.

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  16. So few books described as literary thrillers actually ARE thrillers, and it leads to feeling let down a bit when a book turns out to be a fairly fast-paced story but not a nail-biter. I reviewed this one too; the enjoyable story made me think of how Graham Greene described his novels as "entertainments".

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    1. Yes, this was totally entertainment -- and good for a weekday read for me because it was breezy and fun but with enough sort of meat to the story/plot/characters that I wasn't bored. I'm a tension wimp so the lack of anxiety/nail biting is good for me but I do know what you mean -- I have a friend who gets v disappointed when thrillers aren't truly thrilling.

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  17. I picked this one up at SIBA, and got a chance to speak to the author about it. It sounds amazing, and I really need to make time for it. My daughter is quite a painter, but always complains that she is just "copying". I think the lessons in this book would really teach her that some of the better artists had their time "copying" as well!

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    1. Oh, you and your daughter should read this, then -- the "copying" thing in particular is a huge sort of undercurrent/discussion theme -- really fascinating! Envious you got to meet the author -- am keeping my eye out for readings in the area.

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  18. I like "zippy," count me in!

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  19. I shared a panel with Barbara at the Boston Book Festival this weekend and she was great. Had lots of stories about how this book came to be published. She's lovely and deserves every bit of success with this book. She's one hard-working, inspiring writer.

    I, too, love the Gardner (was just there 2 weeks ago--the new wing is great). I was right around the corner the night of the heist, and it still pains me to know it happened right under our noses and that one of my favorite paintings since childhood (Vermeer's The Concert) is still missing.

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  20. Wonderful review! I stayed up all night, too. LOL

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  21. Great review! I stayed up all night, too. LOL

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  22. Ooh, I love that you've actually been to the museum. I kept dreaming about visiting as I read the book!

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