An internationally renowned writer, Valeria Costas has dedicated her life to her work and to her secret lover, Martin Acla, a prominent businessman. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait--insinuating herself into Martin's family home and life.
A thread of deliciously dark humour is woven into this involving web of performances and fictions; Bernardini is good on the magical thinking of grief, too. Not all will swallow the final twist, but it’s nonetheless a salutary reminder that we are players in others’ stories, even as we are consumed by our own.
Comprised of short vignettes that move in swift, restless succession, the novel addresses the past and the present alongside one another, so that time becomes a spiral that closes in on itself. Memories of Valeria’s departed sister haunt the narrative, and Valeria’s stories are included throughout. The characters are developed as mirrors and refractions of one other, especially as Valeria and Isla study one another during the portraiture ... As the characters tangle, their story becomes desperate, even claustrophobic. In conversation, they are afraid to reveal themselves, answering questions with questions and changing subjects ... a meditative, illuminating novel that pushes the boundaries of love and art.
A sick man’s mistress infiltrates his family in Italian novelist Bernardini’s mournful English-language debut ... A delicious final revelation upends Valeria’s perception of what others know about her, and adds poignancy to Bernardini’s portrayal of these women’s reckoning with love and loss. This engrossing outing will impress and surprise readers.