London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.
When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.
But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .
I love hardbacks when they have exquisite covers and this book just sat on the shelf saying ‘buy me, you know you want to’. When the inner voice talks, especially when books are involved, you just have to listen. Did it matter that it was full price or that I had already a M25 size tailback in my TBR pile, I bought it.
For a few weeks it sat in the pile whilst I read other books, but the cover soon drew me in again. You know the adage about a good cover doth not a good book make? Well in this case they got it right. I usually shy away from books billed as ‘literary’ as they are usually less substance and more emotion. This however has a great story entwined between the gorgeous language used by the author.
There’s a touch of the Collector woven into the story, for those who studied it for A Level, don’t look away. A man obsessed by beauty and curious objects haunts the story. The backdrop of the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park is compelling as is the quest of a group of pre-Raphaelites artists to get their works exhibited at the Royal Academy. Throw in a young woman who desperately wants to paint, a touch of literary porn and you have a story worth reading.
The characters are excellently formed from the sinister Silas through the beautiful Iris. The author makes us love and loath the characters in equal does, building in a realistic taste of a seedy underbelly of London.
The ending is both tragic and joyful, yet the journey is where the book happens. I guess that’s the same with all literary works. This is a first class book and one I’m so happy I listened to the voice inside me.