Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as 'one of the very few magical women that exist.' But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees?
Mary Sharratt has made an impressive career fleshing out the lives of women rendered one-dimensional in the pages of history ... The emotional vacillating can get tiresome (all these crescendos and decrescendos without a finale), but such is historical fiction — you can’t manufacture narrative arc. The good news is that Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel did more with her life after these very vividly fleshed-out years and that Sharratt, with this fine work, has us wanting more.
Her up-and-down cycles of elation and depression, however, soon weary the reader, because Alma’s reactions are so oppressively self-centered, giving Sharratt few chances to bring to life any of the artistic geniuses with whom Alma interacts ... For fans of the setting, however, Sharratt’s considerable skill with descriptions of gorgeous Alpine countryside and the equally sumptuous social and musical soirées may be enough.
...[a] thought-provoking novel ... Sharratt is adept at presenting the internal conflicts that dog her protagonist, with the close third-person narration capturing her often skewed perspective ... In Sharratt’s bracing portrayal, though, Alma’s limits seem largely self-imposed. Readers will enjoy forming their own opinions on who was really the victim here.