RaveThe Spectator (UK)\"This is a novel of deceptions and cruelty. Agnès is a ‘faux prodigy’, her ‘big dreams’ can never materialise and her life is stalked by tragedy. But within this sombre mood is something brilliant. With characteristic poise, Li depicts the intricacies of ordinary lives: childhood friendship, growing up, and existences as slow as the passively ‘floating’ geese Agnès watches. ‘Any experience is experience, any life a life’, writes Li. When it’s this well told, it’s impossible not to agree.\
MixedThe Spectator (UK)... sombre, haunting ... In O’Farrell’s hands historical detail comes alive. She deftly imagines Lucrezia’s childhood in the palazzo in Florence and her later marriage in Ferrara ... The novel is evocative and moving. The aspects of Browning’s poem which can seem far-fetched or comedic (the duchess riding around in her pre-death captivity on a white mule) are sensitively rendered. But, the narrative still falters. Some of the sex scenes are all but unreadable (‘the river god is enacting his nightly ritual, seeking that mysterious and necessary relief’), and the conclusion – mistaken identity and a similar looking maid – feels too neat and insubstantial ... O’Farrell has drawn back the curtain on this marriage portrait, but there’s an unmistakable sense that the painting hasn’t quite been finished.