A perfect book to review in the waning days of summer.
Julia inherits a great aunt’s house on Herne Hill, just outside of London. Unemployed and adrift, she leaves her home in New York City to prepare the house to sell so that she can return to her life. But the house, a place where her late mother grew up, is more than a run down building filled with old junk. Julia encounters a haunting portrait of one of her ancestors, an Imogen Grantham, and when she discovers another painting – one attributed to the mysterious pre-Raphaelite painter Gavin Thorne – she wants to learn the truth. Julia delves into the home’s secrets and learns more about the home’s history, more about herself, and more about her own past.
The historical aspect is a look into Imogen’s life. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Imogen has a reawakening when her husband hires Gavin Thorne to paint her portrait. In Gavin, Imogen finds a match for her intellectual curiosity, passion, and interests. A secret love affair ensues but a plan to flee goes awry, leaving Imogen trapped in her husband’s home forever.
If you’re looking for anything really earth shattering, that won’t be here. This is a very pleasant, if quite predictable, story of two women struggling to make their way in different times. The story feels familiar because it’s because these aspects of become frequent themes in this type of dual-timeline stories: mysterious painting(s), abandoned house, tortured historical heroine, damaged modern heroine, dashing but complicated modern hero, etc. That doesn’t make this any less enjoyable, however, and as an end-of-summer get away book, this is a solid choice.
Here is a blog post by Lauren Willig that details the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1849, a scene where Imogen and Gavin reconnect.
Amazon link is here.