‘A gripping story of love, death, art and deceit’ – Sofka Zinovieff, author of Putney
An internationally renowned writer, Valeria Costas has dedicated her life to her work and to her secret lover, Martin Acla, a prominent businessman. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes; the idea of losing him is terrifying. Desperate to find a way to be present during her lover’s final days, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait – insinuating herself into Martin’s family home and life.
In the grand, chaotic London mansion where the man they share – husband, father, lover – lies in a coma, Valeria and Isla remain poised on the brink, transfixed by one another. Day after day, the two women talk to each other during the sittings, revealing truths, fragilities and strengths. But does Isla know of the writer’s long involvement with Martin? Or that her husband had chosen Valeria for the years ahead? Amidst their own private turmoil, the stories of their lives are exchanged – and as the portrait takes shape, we watch these complex and extraordinary women struggle while the love of their lives departs, in an unforgettable, breathless tale of deception and mystery that captivates until the very end.
‘A stunning “pas de deux” that is enchanting, thrilling and incredibly moving.’ Marie Claire Italia
Bernardini explores loss, love and storytelling in this intimate novel told from Valeria's perspective. A multitude of stories, memories of her meetings with Martin and of the sister, ever present in her mind despite the four decades since her death, are woven through the few weeks Valeria sits for Isla. She's a pleasingly complex character, apparently strong and independent, rejoicing in her cosmopolitan life as an acclaimed short story writer, while in reality riddled with a constant questioning insecurity. It's also a novel about writing - Valeria is a stealer of stories, not above rifling other people's lives even at the risk of being exposed. There's a quiet thread of humour running through Bernardini's novel leavening the loss and hurt - Valeria's over-empathising assistant is a triumph with her adulation and need for hugs - while the question of how much Isla really knows hovers tantalisingly over the last half. Altogether an enjoyable read . . . * alifeinbooks.co.uk * Dizzying . . . astonishing . . . touching . . . stunning * Elle Italia * With a beautiful voice in which the richness of perspective doesn't confuse or disturb the ruthless, sharp, linearity of the narration, in The Portrait, Ilaria Bernardini mostly speaks about braveness . . . The light of The Portrait is perfectly dim at the beginning and slowly, page after page, becomes bright and illuminates powerfully, to the point of blinding us. Ilaria Bernardini constantly tunes that light with wisdom but without giving any consolation. When a narration is that of real literature, it makes it impossible for us to wear glasses behind which to hide. -- Malcom Pagani * Vanity Fair Italia * A stunning "pas de deux" that is enchanting, thrilling and incredibly moving. * Marie Claire Italia * A fascinating, seductive novel, full of nuance * Grazia Italia * Anguished by the death of her secret lover of 30 years, a woman commissions the man's wife to paint her portrait so that she can be close to his family home and life. As one sits and one paints, things begin to materialise. This English-language debut by Italian bestseller Bernardini has a compelling ring to it. * Irish Independent * As soon as I read The Portrait I bought its rights. I thought it could be an elegant, extremely powerful and moving TV series and that it was right for us. Both the characters of Valeria and Isla - so fascinating and true - propel this exciting story with tenderness, passion, and humour. -- Lorenzo Mieli, Fremantle Media and Wildside CEO, producer of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND and THE YOUNG POPE An electric, impossible-to-put-down novel, Ilaria Bernardini's The Portrait is a brilliantly constructed, wildly astute plunge into the depths of love, rivalry, betrayal and the power of women. -- Bill Clegg (author of DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY) Love a tale of complex women and tragedy? This is a story for you. An internationally renowned writer, Valeria has dedicated her life to her work and to her married lover, Martin. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes. Desperate to find a way to be present during his final days, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait, and insinuating herself into Martin's family home and life. What could go wrong...? * Stylist * The premise of this novel - a woman painting the portrait of her husband's mistress - is irresistible and full of dramatic possibilities. Valeria, a famous writer, is overwhelmed with joy when her lover's wife, Isla, agrees to paint her. Martin, with whom she has shared much of her life in passionate secrecy, has had a stroke and is now in a coma. Valeria can be near him by attending sittings. Bernardini's prose is wistful and gentle, with atmospheric descriptions of place, like Martin's hushed Holland Park home, where he lies upstairs while his wife and lover sit opposite one another downstairs. The intensity of feeling pulses through the rooms. And there is a faint menace hovering throughout: how much of the truth is really known? The portrait itself takes its place as a decisive symbol. As the finished result is revealed, something far bigger emerges that feels both astonishing and right. You close Bernardini's work with a quiet reverence. -- Elizabeth Fitzherbert * The Lady * For 30 years, author Valeria Costas has conducted an affair with Martin Acla, a well-known businessman. After he suffers a stroke, she's desperate to find a way to be close to him and commissions his wife, Isla, to paint her portrait. This rich, seductive novel unfolds over a series of sittings in the London home where Martin lies in a coma. The question of how much Isla really knows adds suspense to a riveting story rich in feeling and humour. -- Hephzibah Anderson * Irish Mail on Sunday * Italian novelist Ilaria Bernardini's English language debut is a nuanced exploration of love, grief, deceit and secrets. When well-known businessman Martin has a devastating stroke, his secret lover Valeria Costas formulates a way to be by his bedside during his final days. She commissions Martin's artist wife Isla to paint her portrait, furtively inserting herself into his home, where both women simultaneously struggle to cope while the man they love lies in a coma. This is an affecting story that brings to mind Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels. * Culturefly * as brisk as an easterly breeze . . . A thread of deliciously dark humour is woven into this involving web of performances and fictions; Bernardini is good on the magical thinking of grief, too. Not all will swallow the final twist, but it's nonetheless a salutary reminder that we are players in others' stories, even as we are consumed by our own. -- Stephanie Cross * Daily Mail * A gripping story of love, death, art and deceit, which is also strange, beautiful and deeply original. The Portrait is unlike anything else I've read. -- Sofka Zinovieff, author of PUTNEY
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