The story of how Greene grows into one of the savviest, most knowledgeable patrons of the arts (despite the fact that the objects she acquires are always for someone else) would be a page-turner even if the only challenge Greene faced lay in being a woman of the early 1900s holding such an important position ... an extraordinary tale ... With careful brushstrokes, Benedict and Murray intermittently draw the reader back in time to reveal Greene’s younger years ... As is required for her to successfully infiltrate spaces the rest of the world conspires to keep her from, she is sharp and shielding, hiding much from even such avid researchers as Benedict and Murray—and thus, their readers. Greene lived with joys and losses. The readers experience them, understanding how her life’s path liberated and veiled her, how it provided the perfect cocktail to fuel bold risks, and the cover to duck under at the same time ... The story of Belle da Costa Greene is timely, universal, and enduring.
Thank you, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray for writing this book. I’ve been waiting for a story that would keep me engaged till the end and finally, after a long and arduous search, I’ve found it! Writing a historical fiction about lesser-known real-life-characters is a challenging task on its own, and to make it engaging and realistic to the reader is another level altogether. But this dynamic duo did it, so kudos to them! ... I loved how the authors were able to combine history with fiction so seamlessly, making the whole story come alive. It kept me intrigued, fascinated, and mesmerised throughout ... an immersive, well-told, and thoroughly researched historical fiction about a remarkable personal librarian ... Definitely a must-read, especially for fans of historical fiction!
Every element of this blockbuster historical novel is compelling and revelatory, beginning with the bedazzling protagonist based with awestruck care on Belle da Costa Greene ... a novel of enthralling drama, humor, sensuality, and insight. Belle’s abiding belief in the radiance of books and art; her passionate and tragic relationship with renowned art historian Bernard Berenson, who is also hiding his true identity; and her longing for her father, Richard Greener, the first Black man to graduate from Harvard, deepen this resounding tale of a brilliant and resilient woman defying sexism, classism, and racism during the brutality of Jim Crow. Benedict and Murray do splendidly right by Belle in this captivating and profoundly enlightening portrayal.
... excellent ... This fictional account of Greene’s life feels authentic; the authors bring to life not only Belle but all those around her. An excellent piece of historical fiction that many readers will find hard to put down.
... engrossing ... Marie Benedict (who is white) and Victoria Christopher Murray (who is Black) do an admirable job of trying to imagine whether her achievements were worth the sacrifices. Despite the fact that Belle burned her personal papers before she died, no doubt to protect her secret, the authors succeed in bringing her elusive, charismatic personality to life, highlighting her attention-grabbing style, her witty quips and her rich, complicated relationship with Morgan ... Although the novel may have benefitted from a more sharply focused narrative arc, the authors take full advantage of the treasure trove of intriguing historical detail at their disposal ... There is much to enjoy in The Personal Librarian, as well as much to consider.
Benedict, who is white, and Murray, who is African American, do a good job of depicting the tightrope Belle walked, and her internal conflict from both sides — wanting to adhere to her mother's wishes and move through the world as white even as she longed to show her father she was proud of her race. Like Belle and her employer, Benedict and Murray had almost instant chemistry, and as a result, the book's narrative is seamless. And despite my aversion to the passing trope, I became hooked.
... important, inspirational ... Told from Greene’s perspective, The Personal Librarian deftly conveys her deep knowledge of medieval illuminated manuscripts, her skill in handling her mercurial, overbearing boss, and her prowess in navigating the rarefied circles of art dealers and Gilded Age society. But the book never loses sight of the cost incurred by her family secret through all these professional triumphs ... an engrossing, well-researched read ... Liberties have, of course, been taken, and it’s mostly in these imagined scenes of high drama – such as the physical tension between Greene and her possessive, much older boss – that the writing often feels overheated.
... powerful ... Benedict and Murray do a great job capturing Belle’s passion and tenacity as she carves a place for herself in a racist male-dominated society. This does fine justice to a remarkable historical figure.
Though instructive about both the Morgan collection and racial injustice, the book is exposition-laden and its dialogue is stilted—the characters, particularly Belle, tend to declaim rather than discuss. The real Belle left scant records, so the authors must flesh out her personal life, particularly her affair with Renaissance expert Bernard Berenson and the sexual tension between Belle and Morgan. But Belle’s mask of competence and confidence, so ably depicted, distances readers from her internal clashes, just as her veneer must have deterred close inquiry in real life ... Strangely stuffy and muted.