The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell [7/10]

An historical novel in the hands of Maggie O’Farrell is always an immersive, controlled experience, and while “The Marriage Portrait” is not quite in the same class as her superb Hamnet, it is a treat. Her time period this time is the middle of the sixteenth century, her locale is northern Italy, and her protagonist is sixteen-year-old Lucrezia, married off by her father, the Duke in Florence, to the new Duke of Ferrara, a manipulative, vulnerable enigma. From the first page, it is clear that Lucrezia is under threat but the threat seems mysterious until it suddenly becomes clear. An independent, artistic young woman, Lucrezia is both naive and resourceful, and the central plot dilemma is: will she survive? The author is a rolling, rhythmic stylist with a wonderful eye for retelling the past, and she brings the Italy of the time of the Medicis to life. The plot is slow but surely spooled, and the build-up to the climax is exciting. If the ending seems too Hollywood, the overall journey of The Marriage Portrait is a splendid one, well worth a read.

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