Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The Art Forger
Author: B.A. Shapiro
Published: October 23, 2012
Genre: fiction
eBook: approx. 368 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth 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.

Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

My Thoughts: I saw this book when it first came out and thought it looked interesting but I passed on it. Whenever I read a book that's set in the art world, I always end up not liking it as much because of the amount of detail it goes into about art history. After reading a blogger's review of this book, though (and I can't remember where I read the review at, so I apologize if it was you who wrote the review that inspired me to read the book!), I decided to give it a try. They gushed about how wonderful it was and hard to put down, so I figured that I would take a stab at it. The first 30 pages or so I thought, "Here we go, another lame art book that I'm going to end up not liking." But then things started to get interesting. You have the story of the present day going on, with Claire painting a Degas to sell; Claire's story from three years ago, when she became the joke of the art world; and then going all the way back in time to Isabella Stewart Gardner's correspondence with her niece, detailing her adventures abroad with artists of the day.

While it may seem like that's a lot to be going on in one book, it's never too much. B.A. Shapiro writes in way that pulls you in, inch by inch, into the story. It's never a full blown thrill until about the last 60 pages or so (that's when it became impossible for me to put down), and then she has you on the edge of your seat with anticipation. Going between the present day and the stories of the past, she creates this multilayered story that gives you all the information you need without weighing down the plot and making you lose interest or be overwhelmed with the historical details that pertain to the story.

The characters in this novel are interesting (they are part of the art world, after all), but Claire, the main character, is perhaps the most complex. Even when the story ends, you are a bit unsure why she does the things that she does. In terms of painting this "stolen" Degas, you understand that she wants the money. But she continues with it even though she feels such guilt over having it. With her backstory, you wonder why she would paint a painting for someone else and let him take all the credit for so long. She's hard to read and it can be frustrating at times. But that also makes me like her even more. She's not predictable, she's a real character. Some of her motivations are easy to understand, while others require you to sit and think.

Overall, this was a fascinating read and one that made me want to get up and go to the art museum to look at some of these paintings! It's thrilling, engaging, and not something that we've come to expect from novels that are set in the art world. I will definitely be checking out more of Shapiro's work in the future.

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