The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro, takes the true story of the burglary of five paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston and forges it with a fictionalized account of a painter who is challenged to reproduce one of the stolen masterpieces. Along the way, Ms. Shapiro creates a new Impressionist masterpiece, an affair between Isabella Gardner and a famous painter and alters the architecture of one of America’s best-loved museums.
The novel is well-written and kept me awake finishing it until two in the morning. The author’s description of the painting process itself was so detailed, I wonder if she is herself an artist. It was written clearly enough for me to understand and appreciate the enormous amount of time and struggle and talent that is required even though I myself can not draw a crooked line. Given that, it surprised me that her descriptions of the people, at least the modern ones, were sparse. Most of the novel is written in first person and that may be one reason. I knew for example the artist/narrator was “beautiful” and got a “stylish new haircut” but I have no idea what she looked like. Isabella was more clearly described, even though her descriptions were too, for the most part, in the first person via a series of “letters” written by Isabella to her niece.
The book is about 310 pages long and at page 300 or so, I couldn’t figure out how Ms. Shapiro was going to wrap up all the story lines without a sequel. And I suppose she did and didn’t. All in all, it was a fun read, I learned something about a subject I had no knowledge of and the plot was exciting enough to keep me up half the night. It also had lots of good food.
For a book club menu:
Champagne! (Champagne was brimming over at nearly every opportunity). Champagne is a must.
Cashews in the bowl
Grilled cheese. Get a loaf of nice, whole grain bread (or bake one. I’m not a baker so I’ll just hop over to Great Harvest). Melt lots of butter in a pancake pan and toast bread on one side. Add shredded cheddar, fontina and mozzarella to one slice of bread and when it gets nice and melty, place sliced cherry tomatoes and a couple of fresh basil leaves on the melted cheese. Top the sandwich then flip it to make it nicely browned.
Mac & Cheese. There was a nice dinner with a very special macaroni and cheese with organic mushrooms and fancy cheese. I don’t have a recipe for that but my mom always swore by Kraft Mac & Cheese. And who doesn’t love orange pasta?
Pad Thai. Now, if you’re going with the Pad Thai (in lieu of the Mac & Cheese), order out unless you are a thai cooking specialist. If you are, then your recipe is bound to be better than mine.
Playlist. The book moves mostly among the modern art scene in Boston. I’d choose something cool and jazzy like Miles Davis.
The image above is Anders Zorn’s painting entitled “Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice.” Interestingly, the photographs of her later in life resemble Margaret Hamilton in her Miss Gulch costume — chin and all. For the sake of romanticism, I thought it better to use Mr. Zorn’s painting.