I received this book free from a Giveaway, Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Very Picture of You on October 4th 2011
Where the eye sees the brushstroke, the heart sees the truth.
From Isabel Wolff, the internationally bestselling author of A Vintage Affair, comes a beguiling novel about artistic inspirations, family secrets, and the courage to turn one’s life into a masterpiece.
At thirty-five, Gabriella Graham—“Ella” to her family and friends—has already made a name for herself as a successful portrait artist in London. She can capture the essential truth in each of her subjects’ faces—a tilt of the chin, a glint in the eye—and immortalize it on canvas. This gift has earned Ella commissions from royals and regular folks alike.
But closer to home, Ella finds the truth more elusive. Her father abandoned the family when she was five, and her mother has remained silent on the subject ever since. Ella’s sister, Chloe, is engaged to Nate, an American working in London, but Ella suspects that he may not be so committed. Then, at Chloe’s behest, Ella agrees to paint Nate’s portrait.
From session to session, Ella begins to see Nate in a different light, which gives rise to conflicted feelings. In fact, through the various people she paints—an elderly client reflecting on her life, another woman dreading the prospect of turning forty, a young cyclist (from a photograph) who met a tragic end—Ella realizes that there is so much more to a person’s life than what is seen on the surface, a notion made even clearer when an unexpected email arrives from the other side of the world. And as her portraits of Nate and the others progress, they begin to reveal less about their subjects than the artist herself.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and in Isabel Wolff’s vibrant and textured story, these words are brilliantly crafted to convey the humor, mystery, and beauty that exists within each of us.
‘I felt like Tantalus, neck-deep in water that he could never drink, grasping at fruit that was always just out of reach.’
Ella is an extremely successful portrait artist who has just been asked by her sister Chloe to do a portrait of her future brother-in-law, Nate, whom she despises. Early on in Nate and Chloe’s relationship, Ella overheard Nate speaking to someone and it appeared that he was not having an honest relationship with Chloe and that forever changed her opinion of him. After only their first sitting where she begins Nate’s portrait, her feelings have drastically changed towards him and Ella doesn’t know how to stop them, even if she wanted to.
Ella is also dealing with recent revelations regarding the father who left her and her mother when Ella was only five years old. Her mother always told her how he abandoned them after she caught him with another woman and that he made the decision to leave his family in order to be with her. Ella never had a reason to doubt her mother but when she discovers that may not be an accurate accounting of what actually happened she is more confused than ever.
This was a very interesting read and I enjoyed it immensely. Once the story began to unfold I had an idea of how it would all unveil; however, Isabel Wolff wrapped up all of the loose ends fabulously. I feared that it would be your ‘typical’ type of ending but I was left completely satisfied. I loved the details of Ella’s painting sessions: the particulars of the colors she uses, how she mixes them and the steps she takes to create the portrait of the person she’s painting.
‘Then came the moment when I put in the very last thing I ever add to a portrait – the light in the eyes. That’s when I feel like Pygmalion, having life breathed into his statue; because it’s that little flick of white in each pupil that finally – ping! – brings a portrait alive.’
I also enjoyed the closeness she develops with the people she paints and the stories she learns about them and how it’s woven into the story. It reminded me quite a lot of Isabel Wolff’s other novel that I’ve read, A Vintage Affair, and how the main character becomes immersed in one of her customer’s lives. (Also a fabulous read)
There were parts of this novel that I had a hard time liking at first, primarily the feelings that Ella develops for her sister’s fiancée. Strangely unfitting and not exactly understandable… her infatuation with him occurred a bit too quickly for it to be plausible in my opinion. Fortunately though, it was well written and by the end I was mollified with the outcome.
I also had difficulty liking her mother who was a major character in the story. Despite her tale of what had happened between her and Ella’s father, the fact that she withheld so much information for so long and even after she told it there still seemed to be something missing and I believed her to still be lying throughout the entire story. It’s hard to really care for a character if you feel that they are being deceitful. I loved the side-story of Grace and Mike that was the part of the story that touched me the most.
This is now the second book I’ve read by Isabel Wolff and it certainly won’t be the last.