Friday, October 14, 2011

The Very Picture of You by Isabel Wolfe

Gabriella “Ella” Graham is a portrait artist in her mid-30s, living in present-day London, whose dedication to her artwork precludes her developing personal relationships, in this latest from Brit author Wolff (A Vintage Affair). Ella refuses to paint from photographs and instead requires her subjects to spend long hours sitting for portraits, so intent is she on revealing their true natures. She’s also keenly aware that “I’m drawn to people who are a little bit dark—who haven’t had happy-ever-after sorts of lives. I like painting people who I sense are... complex.” As Ella learns more about the people she paints, she allows herself to reflect on secrets that have haunted her family since she was a child. She remembers sketching her father’s face when she was a little girl in order to preserve his features, but despite repeated inquiries, Ella’s mother refuses to provide her daughter with much detail about the past. The powerful combination of Ella’s professional success along with her sister Chloe’s upcoming wedding causes Ella to turn her focus inward and face startling revelations about herself. Wolff’s heroine is an excellent conduit to understanding how art can reflect the true essence of those being depicted, while the story delivers all the charm and romance readers have come to expect ( Publisher's weekly)

Random House Publishing Group,Hardcover , 336pp

The Very Picture of You is a pleasant and satisfying read. The main character, Ella Graham, is a well known portrait artist whose personal life is somewhat disordered. She is happy with her career, not so much with her romantic life. She is having tiffs with her mother about her biological father, who walked out on the family when she was only five. Her mother was a famous dancer, now remarried, who is still bitter about " the other woman" causing the breakup of the family. Ella loves her stepdad but is beginning to wonder about her father.
Ella has a half sister, Chloe, who has met a new man, Nate and is rebuilding her life after a doomed affair with a married man. Ella is very antagonistic towards Nate after overhearing something she shouldn't have but ends up having to paint his portrait after Chloe wins her services in a charity raffle. After she starts the work on the painting, Ella learns there is a great deal more to Nate than she originally saw.
Besides Nate, Ella is painting three other portraits. One is of an elderly woman named Iris, who has a painting in her house that leads to the telling of a poignant story that resonates with Ella. Another portrait is of a local politician who is going through an emotional crisis that changes his appearance and personality. There is a mystery about this man that may be tied to the hit and run death of a local woman. The third portrait is of a soon to be forty woman who is totally not into the idea of the portait her husband has comissioned. Initially she appears to be shallow and selfish-all surface and no substance.
Ms. Wolfe skillfully intoduces the four"sitters" and little by little gives us glimpses into their lives and personalities. Ella's interactions with the four leads to changes in her life and attitude. Just like in a picture, there are things that have happened and are happening that are not what they seem on the surface. Ella will need to delve deeper into her past in order to have a better future. There are characters in this story we may find unlikeable but we understand in the end why they acted as they did. Ms. Wolfe doesn't excuse bad behavior nor does she punish it. The characters have punished themselves when you really look at them and how they have lived their lives. This books has some parts that are a little formulaic but for the most part it is an interesting look at how people present themselves,how deep those outer layers can go and the work it takes for people to keep those layers intact.

RPL Note: This book is available in the Adult New Fiction Section

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