The Marriage Portrait - Maggie O'Farrell
Hamnet was one of my favourite reads of last year, (or was it the year before? I can never keep up) so I was worried I'd be disappointed by The Marriage Portrait. I was a fool to think Maggie could ever put a foot wrong. She takes moments of characters from history and fills them with life and wonder. I am in awe of how quickly Maggie can pull a reader into her world. Tigers and violence and love and long hair. Loyalty and bravery and tiny paint brushes. I inhaled it. Lucrezia is a heroine and utterly stole my heart.
From the back:
The woman in the portrait is perfect. So why does she feel so terrified, so alone? Florence, the 1560s. Lucrezia, third daughter of Cosimo de' Medici, is free to wander the palazzo at will, wondering at its treasures and observing its clandestine workings. But when her older sister dies on the eve of marriage to Alfonso d'Este, ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage and her father to accept on her behalf. Having barely left girlhood, Lucrezia must now make her way in a troubled court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appears to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble? As Lucrezia sits in uncomfortable finery for the painting that is to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court's eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferrarese dynasty. Until then, for all of her rank and nobility, her future hangs entirely in the balance.