I received an advanced review copy of this title from Pushkin Press through NetGalley. This title was originally written and published in French and the translators of this English version are Paul Buck and Catherine Petit.
Pierre has been an assistant to his uncle for fifteen years, learning about art and the world’s famous masterpieces. His uncle Charles is very meticulous about his work as an art history professor as he catalogues and studies the portraits of famous artists from all over Europe. Pierre is Charles’ only surviving relative and, as far as Pierre is concerned, Charles never had much of a personal life or any significant romantic relationships. Pierre’s knowledge about the life of his uncle all changes when his uncle dies and Pierre finds a very personal diary among his uncle’s private papers. This diary includes the intimate details of Charles’ affair when he was a middle-aged man with a woman named Judith; one of the highlights of their relationship is a trip to Venice where they have intricate discussions about Italian art.
The elegant writing of the book really drew me in and I read over half of it in the first sitting. The first part of the book alternates between Charles’ diary and Pierre’s thoughts about his uncle’s secret love affair. Beaupassant makes us contemplate how well we really know those who are supposed to be closest to us. Pierre worked side by side with his uncle for years and never knew about such an important aspect of his life. Pierre wonders how long they were together for and why his uncle never mentioned what must have been a heartbreaking love affair. While Pierre is still contemplating his uncle’s secret, he meets Judith at an art history conference.
It is clear from Pierre’s memories of his uncle and from Charles’ own diary that Charles chose to reject love and lead a solitary life and dedicate himself to his work. Pierre seems to be moving in the same direction of loneliness until he meets Judith and her daughter, Sarah. Will Pierre, unlike his uncle, choose love and contentment and happiness or will he continue on as a bachelor for the rest of his life?
I must mention that there are several detailed discussions about painting, and portraiture in particular, that gave me a better appreciation for some famous masterpieces; I enjoyed their descriptions so much that I actually looked up the ones that are mentioned in the book (I won’t mention them here to keep potential readers in suspense). Discussions of art, a venetian setting, and a hidden love affair all combine to make this a lovely French novella that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.
About The Author:
Philippe Beaussant is a prominent and award-winning French musicologist and writer. Born in 1930, he is a founder of the Centre for Baroque Music at Versailles and a Member of the Académie Française. Beaussant has written numerous books on the history of Baroque art and music, as well as several novels. He has won many awards, including the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française for his novel Heloise.