Fourteen members attended and were welcomed to this month’s meeting at The Cloisters, Bembridge to discuss the above book with apologies received from six members unable to be with us. The meeting began with the written and some contrasting comments of the book received from those members not present which then led on to a lively session of other members’ views on the book.
It was generally felt that although several members thought the book did take some time to get into they loved it, with others actually being “hooked” from the onset with the Prologue which set the storyline and was 19 pages long! Most enjoyed the content and found it interesting and full of intrigue with lots of twists and turns and secrets. The historical facts were enjoyed by nearly everyone, helping the story flow with the main and well liked character Annie McDee who found and bought the painting in the antique/junk shop at the beginning of this story, the Museum Guide and Artist Jesse, later her boyfriend, and Agnes the Museum Curator dealing with the initial investigative stages to confirm that the painting was indeed an original and not a copy Watteau. It was thought that the Jewish connection was well written giving a real insight into that period of history of the very many paintings and masterpieces that were taken, hidden and destroyed by the Nazis during the War years and how they were “re-distributed” and not really appreciated for their true beauty but sold on as “trophy pieces”
The “talking” painting was a bit of a hot potato topic as although several members thought that the dialogue made the story for them with each chapter a separate piece linking up to form the story and was a very necessary addition there were a few members who found this element rather annoying and grating with two members actually feeling really incensed and irked with it to the point of not wanting to read on – paintings that could talk!! Members did find some of the art history, although very thorough, a little boring at times unless of course you had a special interest in this sort of thing when it would be a different matter and more enjoyable, but quite a few members DID enjoy this part of the book as it reminded them of the BBC TV programme presented by Fiona Bruce that looked at old paintings to see if they were the real thing or fake. One or two members did at times feel that it came through the book that they were perhaps being lectured on what was obviously to them the authors in depth insider knowledge of the art world which she was determined to present whether they liked it or not.
Absolutely everyone really enjoyed the themed cookery sections of the book, proving interesting and so cleverly described it was felt you could actually truly visualise and even eat the food!! It was mentioned that perhaps that some of the characters’ names were a bit absurd and unnecessarily complicated. Thoughts were also given to some of the characters by the author, who had previously said she had based them on some of her acquaintances – Barty came in for some amusing discussion there!! Members then spoke about how it came home to them about how the Russians and their money was used in the art world, and the ways in which this sort of money plays such a huge part and has serious consequences all over the World today. We then moved on to some characters who stood out as not being liked by members and unanimously Rebecca was least liked and some members felt a little aggrieved that she did not quite get her comeuppance as they had hoped. Her 90 year old (Nazi/Jew) father Memling chose the cyanide option – again too tidy and neat as it was felt the ending was. Members agreed that the end of the book was too arranged and twee with too many coincidences neatly tied up. Everyone agreeing, although predictable they were pleased it was a happy ending for Annie, even if her alcoholic mother, Evie in the last chapter moved to the Isle of Wight to open up a Counselling centre!!
So to conclude!!! Mostly everyone really liked it (Oh OK even loved it then!!) with those members who struggled initially, ploughing on with it and finding they actually wanted to finish it! Just a couple of members had a total dislike for the book. It was a thumbs up from us with a general agreement that we would recommend this book to a friend.
And finally (it has to be done!) – I leave the last words to the Painting!!!! A Quote from Chapter 11:
I am still here
And let’s not forget that I am the hero of this story
And far more interesting than food
And longer lasting than love
I am still here