Many of you will already have an opinion of this book because I’ve been pushing it into customers’ hand for months. On reflection, I think it’s my favourite new-release title this year: an art-forgery thriller, set in 17th-century Holland, 1950s New York and year 2000 Sydney.
Dominic Smith is an Australian working in the US, and Sara de Vos is his fourth novel. The title character is a woman painter in the Dutch Golden Age (a colleague of Rembrandt), a composite of the few historical women painters who were admitted to the artists’ Guilds of St Luke. We read of the creation of her haunting At the Edge of a Wood, a painting which later hangs over the marital bed of wealthy Manhattanite Marty de Groot in the 1950s. Unfortunately for Marty, a young Australian called Ellie Shipley, in her far from salubrious “studio” apartment, is busy turning her fine-art training to the task of forging de Vos’ painting. And the third time period of this thriller is turn-of-the-millennium Sydney, when the successful Eleanor is now curating an international exhibition which is to include At the Edge of a Wood. The big question is: Will her forgery be discovered and Eleanor’s career be scuttled in the wake of the scandal? And this is what the novel explores…
This novel was so gripping that I resented life when it got in the way of reading, and it was just gorgeously written. Peter Carey’s Theft and Jessie Burton’s The Muse both deal with art-world crimes and intrigues, but I found Smith’s novel far better than either. Clearly, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith – Allen & Unwin – TPB – $33