A mysterious and richly evocative novel, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque tells the story of portraitist Piero Piambo, who is offered a commission unlike any other. The client is Mrs. Charbuque, a wealthy and elusive woman who asks Piambo to paint her portrait, though with one bizarre twist: he may question her at length on any topic, but he may not, under any circumstances, see her. So begins an astonishing journey into Mrs. Charbuque's world and the world of 1893 New York society in this hypnotically compelling literary thriller.
Ford expertly created a surreal alternate landscape in his acclaimed fantasies The Physiognomy and Memoranda; here, in his fourth novel, sepia-colored old New York is the fever-dream world. Piero Piambo is the portraitist of choice among New York's nouveau riche in 1893, but his career fills him with self-loathing. When a blind man with uncannily white eyes offers him "a job like no other" painting the mysterious Mrs. Charbuque Piambo quickly accepts, as the hefty commission will allow him to abandon society portraiture. But the terms of the deal are very strange: Mrs. Charbuque insists that she will hide behind a screen; to divine what she looks like, Piambo may ask her questions, but not about her appearance. It soon becomes clear that she will not be interrogated; instead, like a possibly "unhinged" Scheherazade, she mesmerizes Piambo with her story of growing up convinced she possessed psychic powers conferred on her by twin snowflakes. Piambo's opium-addicted friend Shenz convinces him to investigate his mysterious model, leading them to interview a deranged "turdologist" who sheds light on her past. But then Piambo is assaulted by a man identifying himself as Mr. Charbuque, demanding to know why the artist is "seeing my wife." And there are other dangers about, as the city is under attack by a parasite that eats "the soft tissue of the eye" and causes its victims to weep blood. Add dangerously unstable characters speaking with delicious floridity, unexpected bursts of macabre humor and violence, and a gender-bending subplot that subtly picks up steam, and you have a standout literary thriller.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
May 26, 2003
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.