Recollections of the Meeting of the Bryn Mawr Book Group on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, for “The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro
Attended by Roo Dane (host), Anne Ipsen, Sandra Lovell, Katherine O’Connor, Dodie Rees, and Cornelia Robart.
Our word for the evening was Craquelure: “the fine pattern of dense ‘cracking’ formed on the surface of materials, either as part of the process of ageing or of their original formation or production.” A key component of copying/faking/forging an old painting. An important element of this novel.
Claire Roth is an art forger living in Boston, employed by a company that provides copies of great masters to clients. She is also a gifted artist in her own right, but woefully (and somewhat unbelievably) naïve when it comes to men and their treachery. She helps her lover, Isaac, a manic-depressive professor, out of a slump by painting for him a brilliant study. He signs it, presents it to an art competition, wins – and subsequently dumps Claire and refuses to acknowledge her part in the painting. When Claire tries to prove she was the artist, even reproducing the painting before a qualified witness, she is rejected, blackballed from the Boston art world, and quite miserable – as is Isaac, who promptly commits suicide.
Aidan Markell, a very successful gallery owner, persuades her to make a copy of a painting he claims to be one of the missing paintings from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum heist many years earlier. She realizes that it is not an original, but for the promise of a solo show at his gallery – and a lot of money – she goes along with the handsome, charming Aidan‘s plan.
The plot takes off. Letters written, we are supposed to believe, by Isabella Gardner herself, describe imaginary nude paintings, affairs, hidden chambers, secret diaries. Lots of backstabbing, betrayal, anguish and angst, hope, hard work, and marvelous descriptions of the painter’s craft. We learn about layering, varnish, the effects of weather and temperature on a canvas, baking and scraping painted surfaces, and much more.
We also learn about the addiction of the art collector. Aidan sells the forgery, which is discovered by customs when the careless Southeast Asian buyer does not follow Aidan’s smuggling instructions. Imprisoned for forgery, Aidan would rather lose a finger (whose print opens the safe where he has the money paid by the irate customer) than sell a painting to refund the buyer. A fictional Gardner descendant hides the nude painting of her grandmother in a secret room at home, denying its existence.
B.A. Shapiro teaches creative writing at B.U. and is, reports A.I., an amusing speaker. Shapiro is herself an artist, whose spouse encouraged her and “had benefits.” Our group noisily agreed that the plot was convoluted, entertaining, complex. The characters are erratically developed, the writing pedestrian. Was the volunteer work at the juvenile detention center only included to give the heroine the clue about left-handed brushstrokes? The conceit of the Gardner letters was “a bit phony, chintzy,” the wide-eyed innocence of Claire quite unbelievable and laughable. But all in all it was a fun read. “I’d read third-rate trash if I knew I’d have a chance to talk about it in this group,” exclaimed one member.
A great summer reading program awaits. Always at Roo’s, we selected the following:
Tuesday, July 15: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out the Windows and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.
Tuesday, August 5: Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger.
Tuesday, September 23: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.
Any changes in these dates will be advertised in good time. The Tartt book is very long, thus it comes at the end of the summer.
June 17 2014 | Book group | Comments Off