The Art Restorer
By: Julián Sánchez
Format/Source: galley courtesy of Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley
In this long-awaited sequel to The Antiquarian, the discovery of an enigma concealed in the paintings of the Spanish artist Sert proves the restoration of the past to be a fascinating but deadly business
Enrique Alonso travels from his new home in Manhattan to San Sebastián, Spain, to attend the reopening of the San Telmo museum, where his ex-wife, Bety, works in public relations. There he meets American Craig Bruckner, a retired art restorer studying the museum’s collection of works by Sert—a contemporary of Picasso and Dalí who worked for the most famous billionaires of his time and whose mural American Progress graces the walls of Rockefeller Center. When Bruckner is found drowned in La Concha bay, Bety suspects foul play and Enrique agrees to help her look into the man’s death. Their investigation reveals a mystery connected with Sert’s checkered past, which provides fertile ground for the new thriller Enrique is writing, and the plot develops in parallel to his research.
Enrique and Bety’s reconstruction of the artist’s clandestine activities during World War II leads them to Paris, Barcelona, and New York, and in the process forces them to face their own past. But they are not the only ones interested in Sert’s work, and it appears there is more to his paintings than meets the eye.
I requested for this book because the premise sounded really interesting–artists, set in Spain, a mystery. I actually have The Antiquarian on my want-to-read list but was approved a copy of this novel; I’m sure it won’t be too spoilerish that I’m reading the second novel in the series first 😉
This book will be available on 8 July 2014. This book is part of the Everything Espana Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.
The Art Restorer was a curious read featuring a mix of mystery, historical fiction, romance, and a meta-examination of plot and story. The story moves through brief chapters and reminded me of Dan Brown and Steve Berry’s books with the infusion of a mystery from decades past. It was interesting enough, how the artist Sert became involved in World War II activities and how those activities were unearthed and played a role in the present-day storyline with Enrique and Bety. Despite of the short chapters moving the story along, I thought it was a bit of a slow drift; it only started picking up when Sert’s story entered the plot and Enrique and Bety started piecing together the mystery from different angles.
I think my favourite aspect of the novel was the look into the writing process. In a way, it sort of contributed the feeling of the story moving slowly, but on the other hand I thought it was interesting the way that Enrique approached his writing and starting a new novel, as well as his dealings with his publishers. I’m not sure if this is how novelists are approached all the time regarding their future work (though given that this novelist is traditionally published, I’m sure he incorporated his own experiences here), but it was both fascinating and perhaps a bit unsettling (for this reader who is an aspiring writer).
What affected my reading experience of this novel was the writing itself. I’m not sure if this might be in part due to the translation, but I found the writing style to be rather clunky and heavy at times, both dialogue and narration. It started easing off a bit once I was well into the novel, but it still felt rather stilted and not natural at times.
On another note, I personally could have lived without the love triangle and ensuing melodrama between Enrique, Bety, and Helena. I found the dynamic between Enrique and Bety already interesting and could have stood on its own without the presence of another character (Helena) in the mix. I can see why Helena was included in the drama, to propel the tensions further, and force Enrique to make a decision, but I wished the conflict was contained between Enrique and Bety and that they overcame their personal doubts and issues on their own/together without the third wheel. I felt especially bad for Bety, who clearly longed for a stable connection but is either disappointed or left hanging.
Overall, The Art Restorer was an interesting read despite of my reservations of the writing and the love triangle. There’s a bit of travel involved so it wasn’t solely set in San Sebastián but I think those were my favourite parts of the novel. I also enjoyed the dynamic between Enrique and Bety, perhaps more than the plot itself. Overall, it kept my attention.
Visit the author’s page on Open Media