Hello dear bookish friends! I am finally back from vacation and recovered enough to be back writing. What is it about vacation that sometimes leaves me needing a vacation from my vacation?
I am excited to review another novel by one of my favorite contemporary novelists, Katherine Reay. I have raved about her books including my recent favorite Lizzy and Jane, as well as her other novels Dear Mr. Knightley and The Bronte Plot. I love her skillful storytelling and clever incorporation of literary allusions of all sorts.
- This novel was harder for me to get into. Basically, until the setting shifts to Italy, I wasn’t super invested in the story. But, wow, once we are transported to the gorgeous Tuscan countryside, I was hooked!
- Can I just say that this novel made me want to travel back to Italy and eat fabulous Italian food? My husband and I have been to Rome and I remember it made us both want to see more of Italy.
- The quick pace of Emily and Ben’s relationship did not phase me. Perhaps that is because my husband and I knew we would get married after only a few weeks of dating. 😉
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay follows the story of Emily Price, an aspiring artist with a knack for fixing anything. Her world is turned upside down when she falls in love with handsome Italian chef, Ben, and she follows him back to his hometown in Italy. Goodreads summarizes, “Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit. Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?
I love the relationships in this novel, between spouses, between parents and children, between friends, and between siblings. Reay is a master of creating beautiful connections between people. It only takes a few days, even a few hours, for Ben and Emily to connect in deep and meaningful ways. I love that. I love that Reay gives us relationships that are strong and affirming regardless of how long they have been formed. I also appreciate the complexities she creates in those relationships. Ben’s family is far from perfect. There are secrets and emotional turmoil that have been buried deep for many years. Not everything is perfectly resolved by the end of the novel. These characters are flawed. But they keep striving to make things right. And their relationships feel authentic.
Reay is at her best with the characters in this novel. Emily is an intriguing protagonist. I did not connect with her right away. But when she arrives in Italy and finally allows herself to change and to connect with others, I really loved her. I loved Ben for his intensity, passion, and deep love. He is truly a modern day prince charming. I think Lucio is my favorite character because of his love of books and his deep emotional connections with others. I love his home library. I love the way he prescribes different novels for Emily to read when she arrives and that she allows literature to change her. I admire his strength and his patience. He understands the world and the people in it quite clearly. Ultimately, I admire his determination to correct his mistakes and bring his family together, despite the difficult emotions and experiences that requires.
I love the way art and literature blend in this novel. This novel has a different focus than the other novels I have read by Reay. In other reviews, I have raved about Reay’s creative allusions to some of my favorite classic literature–Jane Austen’s novels, the Bronte Sisters, and Charles Dickens. This one is more about classic art. I had to look up the referenced paintings several times in order to understand the significance. But I enjoyed the shift in focus, and I think Reay does just as masterful a job with art as she does with literature. I always finish her books feeling inspired to read more, cook more, and now appreciate art more.
I feel this quote sums up the importance of art and truth in our lives quite well.
“Art is about beauty and desire, yes, but it’s also about truth. That’s what pricked my eyes, not the paintings, but what they conveyed. Truth. And when art touched the soul, it was because it spoke to something Beyond ourselves and the temporal; it called out to our deepest understandings and dreams. It reached higher. It meant more.”
A Portrait of Emily Price, page 318
There are so many beautiful morals in this novel, and Reay has a gorgeous way of expressing them. This novel teaches us the importance of art and literature. It gives us beautiful examples of marriage and love. It teaches that second chances are possible and the past can be overcome. I appreciate the way God and religion are incorporated into Reay’s stories. She does not preach. Instead, she weaves faith and belief into her novels so they fit seamlessly beside the literature, art, and characters.
A few favorite lines that taught me something important or reminded me of a truth that I had misplaced:
“The eyes are the windows to the soul. . . . They convey every emotion, cloud to hide you behind an impenetrable wall, or strip you bare and leave you fully exposed.”
“Books told stories. Books told us about ourselves.”
“Joy isn’t a feeling, it’s a truth.”
“Some things can’t be fixed. We just have to endure them.”
A Portrait of Emily Price, pages 34, 100, 222, 254, 323
I finished this novel feeling full and happy. Although I found it difficult to connect with early, the beautiful ending literally brought tears to my eyes. It is a gorgeous culmination of love, art, and belonging. I love the way the characters are changed and relationships shift. This is a novel that will feed your soul and give you added strength to face the challenges of life. Reay’s novels always do that for me. And I am grateful for that. Definitely worth owning this one as well!
What is your favorite Katherine Reay novel?
What novels do you love set in Italy?