Maggie O'Farrell's new historical novel about a young bride’s story set in the brutal world of Renaissance Italy. A delicious treat of a read for October, filled with intrigue, captivating energy and Renaissance drama.
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THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT
‘The Marriage Portrait’ by award winning Maggie O’Farrell is the author’s sensational new historical novel about a young bride’s story set in the brutal world of Renaissance Italy. A delicious treat of a read - filled with intrigue, captivating energy and Renaissance drama.
‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive, I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Padolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her?'
Extract from ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning
Inspired by Robert Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess’ and the historical events that the poem were based on, Maggie O’Farrell weaves a compelling story drawing on the mysterious death of the young bride Lucrezia de Medici who marries Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara uniting two powerful dynasties in Renaissance Italy. Just like the portraits that typified this period, Maggie O’Farrell paints a vivid and colourful portraiture, looking at and beyond the poem, the artwork and the facts.
‘The Marriage Portrait’ starts with an unexpected visit to the Duke’s country lodge. Sitting down for dinner in this ‘wild and lonely place’ the reader learns from Lucrezia that her husband has a sinister reason behind bringing her to the lodge: he intends to kill her. The first chapter immediately sets the tone and pace of the novel - presenting the foreboding danger and sense of urgency. Whilst the format is short and pacy the author alternates the present and impending doom with longer chapters that provide Lucrezia’s back story in which she grows up as the wilder free spirit within her sheltered and privileged palazzo. Whilst the novel has a strong historical narrative O’Farrell brings a modern perspective to the ill fated heroine. As the story evolves the reader recognises the entrapment and closing down of the young bride’s life. The author peels away at the layers of stories hidden under the portrait and just like Lucrezia the reader is trapped by the young girl's predicament.
Interestingly there is only one portrait of Lucrezia de Medici, unlike the rest of her siblings, begging the question why and what really happened to this young bride? The Den enjoyed O’Farrell's exploration of the mystery surrounding Lucrezia - bringing to life a credible narrative of a young girl’s plight to survive. Although a very sad story the Den loved the imaginative writing that brought freshness and brilliant clarity to this little known historical figure.
The Den also recommends 'Hamnet' as a favourite book club read - see Den's Dozen for our review.