#3 – The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – 2022 Best Reads

Maggie O’Farrell’s breakthrough novel, Hamnet, which was named a New York Times ten best in 2020, didn’t do it for me. I appreciated the gorgeous details of life in Shakespeare’s England, but the connection to Shakespeare himself seemed tenuous at best.

However, The Marriage Portrait, O’Farrell’s follow-up novel, hit the sweet spot, even though she is once again imagining herself into the life of an historical character. Perhaps this one works so well because Lucrezia de’ Medici, a princess in Renaissance Italy, left such sparse clues to her identity in comparison to the Bard. O’Farrell is free to weave an intricate story.

Weaving is what she does, intertwining scenes from Lucrezia’s brief life with the tense final day she spends with her husband Alfonso, whom she suspects of wanting to murder her. The time-shifting is seamless and as the end approaches we feel the pace picking up. It reads, at times, like a murder mystery.

But the glory of this book is O’Farrell’s evocation of another time and place. She depicts the constrained life of royal women in the period–their isolation and ironic deprivation even as they are ensconced in material wealth. Even so, Lucrezia emerges as a vibrant, bright, defiant teenager forced to rely on her wits and her connection with a loyal ‘milk sister.’

It works and the journey is transporting. That’s why The Marriage Proposal ends up at #3.

#4 – Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

#5 – Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv

#6 – Fatal by Kimberly Johnson

#7 – Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty

#8 – Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell

#9 – A Place Like Mississippi by W. Ralph Eubanks

#10 – Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald

2 responses to “#3 – The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – 2022 Best Reads”

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