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The book starts on the night of an auction, when a long-lost and recently rediscovered painting by famous artist Antoine Watteau is being sold. The prospective buyers are introduced to the reader, and it is clear that there is a huge buzz surrounding this painting.

Cut to six months earlier, when a young lady named Annie McDee, who has no idea whatsoever about art, is looking for a gift for her new boyfriend, and stumbles across a painting in a junk shop. She buys it but has no idea of the adventure that this painting will lead her to. It is also clear that there are others who would dearly love to get their hands on this painting for more nefarious reasons, and at least one person is desperate to get it in order to stop a dark secret being exposed – and he is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his goal.

I bought this book more or less on a whim, and picked it up to read with not particularly high hopes. However, I have to say that I found it utterly delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Annie is a great character for the story to hinge upon – she has no idea of the picture’s history and significance, so she discovers it at the same time as the reader does. She is a hugely likeable character and very easy to identify with. I also really liked Jesse, the young artist who helps her in discovering the history of the painting, while quite obviously falling for her at the same time.

There are a lot of other characters – if this book was turned into a film, it would need a large cast! – but skilful writing means that it never gets confusing. I also loved the fact that occasional chapters were even narrated by the painting itself – it sounds kooky and gimmicky, but somehow it works.

It’s a great story, imaginative, often funny and very sweet and intriguing – I highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by this author.

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This is an interesting novella, which left me with mixed – but generally positive – feelings about it.  Cambridge alumnus Oliver visits his former tutor, the elderly Theo Parmitter, and Theo starts to tell him the story of a painting hanging on his wall, which depicts a carnival scene in Venice.  Overall, there are three narrators – Oliver, Theo and a Countess who used to own the painting before it came into Theo’s possession.  Between them, they reveal the secret of the painting – or not so much, because it wasn’t really a secret – after about a third of the book, I guessed pretty much what was going to happen.

In less than 150 pages, Susan Hill has certainly crafted an interesting story, with plenty of atmosphere.  It was very easy to read (and could easily be read in one sitting) and enjoyable overall, but the ending was no surprise, which may be why at the end of it, I was slightly bemused.  Maybe I was hoping for some kind of shock denouement.

This is definitely a story where the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination.  Worth reading; satisfying, but not spectacular.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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