Release Date: October 23, 2012
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Check it out on Goodreads
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.
Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.
As part of my pledge to read more out-of-genre books, including classics and adult novels, I picked up The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro due to a friend’s recommendation, and I could not be more excited about it.
With absorbing descriptions, intriguing characters, information rooted in bits of history and allure, The Art Forger is a subtle yet consumingly addictive artistic thriller. Its elegance is understated, with savory depictions of works from all over time supported by a strong protagonist and romantic views.
When Claire – a social pariah of the art world after a messy relationship with both a painting and a painter – is approached by Aiden Markel, owner of one of the finest galleries in Boston, she isn’t expecting the bargain that he proposes. Comfortable reproducing famous works of art for an online company but aching to show off her own works again without the scorn that her notoriety produces, she’s itching to make it to the big shows again. However, a show isn’t what Aiden comes to offer her. Aiden seeks Claire’s help in something a lot more illegal.
After the Bath was a painting stolen in the famous Gardner heist about twenty years ago. And Aiden has it in his possession. Instead of simply returning it to the museum through an anonymous donation, Aiden wants Claire to copy it for him. Not just copy – forge. He offers Claire the money she desperately needs, and a chance to return to the art world with a fresh new debut.
The difference is immense. A copy is something that one knows isn’t the original – its origin is publicized. A forgery is something that pretends to be the original – something fake.
When Claire says yes, she’s quickly entered into a story she has no choice but to see through to the end. Between digging through history to find the forgery she suspects Aiden has given her and relishing the challenge that her new painting project presents her, she’s got her hands full with more than her Reproductions.com gig. Soon, however, it gets away from her.
Claire was a strong character who had the tendency to make weak choices. I liked her a lot, actually. She was funny and sweepingly passionate about art and her various pursuits, and nothing makes me happier than passionate people. Her colorful descriptions could delve into almost synesthesiac-esque depictions which I adore. Bits of her character reminded me a lot of myself which was entertaining to say the least; she would completely throw herself into her work with an ecstatic devotion, especially if she was upset, which I do a lot with various projects. Her pure love for art in itself was a refreshing element in the book – she could carry on for ages about famous forgers and the rich histories underlying her favorite works. Despite being dry, it padded the rest of the book with an even more compelling touch.
Romance saturated most of the book, but not only in relationships – it talked about falling in love with paintings, with history, with social scenes and attention and all sorts of things. It’s a book for connoisseurs of a sort. Filtered through this dreamy perspective but not afraid to tackle the grit, The Art Forger did a gorgeous job of looping it all together.
Hands down best part of the book was a pacing. It was truly excellent – spun together tantalizingly, each chapter tempted me to the point where I devoured it in a day and a half. I kept marveling at simply, how well the book was written. It wasn’t showy – it was pretty straightforward in the writing style, not overly poetic or purple – but just a solid story.
It depicted a pretty fascinating social scene that really isn’t dealt with that often; mostly, when I read about art, I read about characters who escape into their artwork, not those who make successful albeit challenging careers from them. It brought a new meaning to the “starving artist” trope. Most of Claire’s friends and descriptions held the sparkling intrigue for the art world that most of us bloggers hold in regard to the publishing industry. It dealt with the depiction of art equally as a fevered conduit for self-expression as well as the business side of it.
This book left me so satisfied. The ending was honestly – and I use this word lightly – perfect, with one of the most gratifying endings I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I had my doubts about the concept of it being a “thriller” but it truly is – it’s gripping. The exquisite portrayals of some of history’s most delectable paintings were tampered with a fervent voice; the history was well-researched, full, and precise. It’s a view I don’t see in my AP Art History class, and one that I’m very grateful I was able to pick up. Pages will fly by so quickly.
A well-rendered venture into the seductive nature of the art world, in equal parts glitz and rich history, The Art Forger is an irresistible choice. Especially if you’re someone like me, who rarely gambles on a book in the adult spectrum, this is really really really good. This one comes highly recommended.