The PortraitIlaria Bernardini
2 April 2020
Published by Allen & Unwin
When well-known businessman Martin Acla’s stroke makes the news headlines, celebrated author Valeria Costas’s world implodes; as Martin’s secret lover for the past thirty years the idea of losing him is beyond comprehension. Desperate to find a way to be alongside him during his final days, Valeria commissions Martin’s artist wife to paint her portrait and so inserts herself into his family home – and life.
In the grand mansion house in west London where the man they share lies comatose, Valeria and Isla remain poised on the brink – and transfixed by each other. Does Isla know of her sitter’s long involvement with her husband? Does Martin know she’s there in his house? And what about the fact Valeria’s mother is simultaneously losing her own battle with life hundreds of miles away in Rhodes? As the portrait starts to takes shape, we watch these singular women struggle while the love of their lives departs – taking with him much of what has defined each of them.
In its nuanced depiction of two very different people and the secrets they keep we’re tossed high and low in an unforgettable tale reminiscent of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet and Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. Filled with deception and mystery, The Portrait is a breathless dance that intrigues until the very end.