Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Book Review: The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro, narrated by Xe Sands

I met the author, B.A. Shapiro, a couple of years ago at an event. She is so nice! I'd read and thoroughly enjoyed her first novel, also about art, The Art Forger. I'd bought this book at the event—three copies in fact—which I gave to my mother and two sisters for Christmas that year (three art history majors there). I had planned to read one copy before I gave them away but... I didn't get to it. So instead, much later, I listened to it on audio.

Now, I tend to avoid fiction on audio. It's just not my favorite. With all the different voices, some of which seem never to be done well, and the fact that in an audio I always space out or get distracted at some point which is much more detrimental to the understanding of a novel than nonfiction, I just don't usually listen to fiction. But I have figured out a trick—if I can listen to it nearly straight-through, then it will work better for me. I'm not as lost about who characters are, I am not as easily distracted (in fact towards the end the opposite seems to happen—I get so caught up in the story that it's harder to get my attention for something else.) And this one had a bonus: the narrator was excellent.

There's a contemporary story of Danielle who works at Christie's and has been looking for her aunt, Alizee Benoit's art her entire career. Then in flashbacks, we have Alizee's story of working for the WPA and meeting Eleanor Roosevelt and having an affair with Mark Rothko and being best friends with all the other Abstract Expressionists from that period—Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollack et al. I'm not sure if the framing story of Danielle was really necessary. The book is only 20% her story and 80% Alizee's story, which is much more compelling and interesting. But int he end the two storylines do converge and Danielle does find out (more or less) what happened to Alizee when she disappeared without a trace just before WWII broke out.

I loved that it's a lesser-done time period, especially with the WPA angle which I really haven't read about much in fiction. Art is also hard to write about in novels, but not for Ms. Shapiro. She almost seems to find it easy and the art just came alive in my mind. (It's helpful to also have an idea of what Abstract Expressionism is of course.) If you like art at all, and historical novels, this is a great one. I thoroughly enjoyed it and managed to completely lose myself in Alizee's world for a couple of days.

I downloaded this eaudiobook via Overdrive through my local library.

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