Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review: The Very Picture of You

By Melissa Amster

I have to admit that I am not really interested in much that has to do with art. I have gone to The Art Institute (Chicago) and been bored to tears. So knowing that "The Very Picture of You" was about a portrait artist didn't initially sell me on the story idea. However, I loved Isabel Wolff's previous novel, "A Vintage Affair," after going into it with about the same level of interest and coming out with an enchanting story. And I heard other people highly recommend "The Very Picture of You," so I knew I had to give it a fair chance. Once again, I fell in love with the beautiful story that Ms. Wolff wove through the pages.

Gabriella "Ella" Graham is a portrait artist in London, commissioned by famous people,  as well as family, friends and others in the nearby area who wish to be immortalized on canvas. When a recent commission turns out to be her sister's fiance, Nate, Ella dreads having to work with him after overhearing a rude sounding phone conversation. Then all the cards are put on the table and suddenly Ella sees him in a different light that could mean trouble for her and her family. Another person causing trouble for her family, or so she thinks, is her father who abandoned her at a young age. Between her newfound affection for Nate and trying to find out the truth about her father from her elusive mother, Ella also learns a lot from her other sitters, as their secrets force her to confront her own even further than before.

I absolutely loved "The Very Picture of You." Ms. Wolff creates such strong characterizations for everyone she puts on her pages, making Ella a sympathetic character and allowing readers to get to know everyone in her life really well and sympathize with them, as well. There was so much life in this novel and every story Ella heard from her sitters added to the vibrancy, making the black and white pages even more colorful than her portraits. Even though art doesn't interest me all that much, Ms. Wolff made it sound interesting through Ella's voice. The romantic storylines were complex and full of surprise twists. I had a hard time putting down this book, as I wanted to know more of what was going to happen and try to figure out everyone's secrets.

The only thing that didn't really work for me was that I had a hard time believing how everyone could just confess their deepest, darkest secrets to Ella just because she was painting their portrait. She may as well have been a priest in a confession booth. Everyone was so tight-lipped and all of a sudden their truths come out when Ella paints their picture. She's only part of their lives for about 12 hours and they seem to hold back a lot before completely spilling their stories to her. It almost seems too good to be true. I would have found it amusing if Ella was secretly a writer, using their stories for her novels. Maybe Ms. Wolff can work with that idea for her next novel. Aside from that, there were a few minor mistakes that should have been caught before going to print.

I highly recommend "The Very Picture of You" to anyone who wants an intriguing story told in such a lovely way that you almost forget you're actually reading a book and instead feel like a part of all the characters' lives.

More by Isabel Wolff:


Na said...

This story sounds very interesting and I'm particularly interested in the characters. Thank you for the review.

Elissa said...

This is definitely in my to be read pile...I just finished A Vintage Affair and loved it! She's one of my long time fave authors!