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The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  724 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews

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,

Paperback, 310 pages
Published June 1st 2003 by William Morrow (first published 2002)
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Jul 16, 2008 Miriam rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, art
Piambo is a successful painter of New York society portraits. Feeling that he is not living up to his artistic potential, he impetuously accepts a mysterious commission from a blind man who accosts him on his way home one night. As learns the next day, he will be paid an unprecendented sum to paint Mrs. Charbuque. The catch? He cannot see her. The lady sits behind a screen and tells him a bizarre tale of her isolated childhood as the daughter and assistant of a man who believed he could learn th ...more
Aug 14, 2007 Peggy rated it really liked it
A clever premise -- a bored and unhappy portrait painter is hired by the mysterious Mrs. Charbuque to paint her portrait, with one catch; he can't ever see her. From behind a screen she will answer any question, but no peeking. If he manages to capture her image, he will win enough money to free him from the necessity of portraiture and allow him to be an artist again -- masterfully written. The truly clever part of this is that we as readers are in the same position as the painter--we only know ...more
Ben Loory
Apr 02, 2012 Ben Loory rated it really liked it
starts out like a henry james story and then explodes into surrealist fantasy. 300 pages long and i smiled the whole way through. my only quibble is i think it may have overshot the ending by a bit, in the name of bringing us back to the "real world."

i can't imagine why no one has made this into a movie. it's just sitting right there, wrapped up in a bow.
Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
This novel got inside of my skin -- I haven't figured out why yet, but it did, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a long time to come. It is the second of Jeffrey Ford's books that I've read (the first being The Girl in the Glass) and he does not disappoint. His writing is excellent, and there is no better way to describe his work. If you want something WAY off the beaten path, and certainly off the path of what's on the bookshelves at your local bookstore, then try this one.

here's the b
Feb 03, 2009 Roxane rated it really liked it
When I picked up this book, I was expecting something along the lines of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. There are a few similarities; in fact the Portrait of Dorian Gray is mentioned at the beginning of the book. Both of them lift questions they don’t really answer but that’s about as far as the similarities go. This book is actually quite hard to define and classify… it’s fiction and fantasy and mystery all at once… and then when you look back on it, there’s no real supernatural explanation…
May 04, 2009 Scott rated it really liked it
Jeffrey Ford's novel The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque was a really good read. I debated between 4 and 5 stars, and settled on 4 because the end was a little bit of a let down. If you are reading this, you probably know the plot of The Portrait. Ford keeps up the mystery throughout the novel, and never lets the reader get tired with the mystery. All the characters, despite their odd quirkiness, are completely engaging and interesting to follow. Ford's history of New York City in the 19th century is ...more
The Sheila
Jun 09, 2007 The Sheila rated it it was ok
This book contains, in all seriousness, the sentence, "I was withering inside like those cut flowers ensconced in the ornate vase that was my life." Needless to say, I gave up before page fifty. (Alas for the premise. If only the /good/ writers got the good ideas! If only Jesus Christ had Rothschild's purse!)
Jul 13, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
I've said it before and I'll gladly say it again: Jeffrey Ford is one of the best writers alive today. This book is impossible to put down -- indeed, I read it in one sitting -- and full of the color and imagination one comes to expect from Ford.

I have to admit, I was disappointed with the end, which was a lot more sedate and pedestrian than what I was hoping for. The ending does bring a certain amount of peace to some characters who deserve it, but I was really hoping for -- and expecting -- a
Triss Velvel
Jun 08, 2013 Triss Velvel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Portret pani Charbuque. Asystentka pisarza fantasy to kolejna pozycja z serii Uczta Wyobraźni wydawnictwa Mag, która składa się ze zbioru opowiadań i powieści tego samego autora. Taka mnogość różnych tworów w jednej książce nastręcza sporo trudności w jednoznacznej ocenie dzieła - bo czy pozwolić kilku średnim opowiadaniom znacznie zaniżyć ewaluację wspaniałej powieści lub odwrotnie? Czy może przymknąć oko na niedociągnięcia długiej formy i pozwolić sobie na pełen zachwyt nad krótką? Postanowiła ...more
Kyle Muntz
Jun 15, 2015 Kyle Muntz rated it it was amazing
An engaging, poised novel that makes a great use of its central premise: a painter is hired to paint a portrait of a woman, except he isn't allowed to look at her. Instead, she tells him the story of her life--which is fantastic, bordering on the cosmological, and seems to be creeping into the world around the painter in ominous ways. Along the way, just like in Ford's stories, there are moments of imagination (delivered in this impressionistic, almost liquid smooth prose) that impressed me more ...more
Mar 18, 2015 Juan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Empecé a leerlo sin muchas expectativas. Lo anterior que leí de Ford fue La Fisiognomía, q es CF, y este parecía algo gótico. Sin embargo la lectura no es nada pesada y las cosas q van sucediendo hace q uno le vaya agarrando gusto a la historia. El final me resultó medio agridulce, pero no decepcionante, de hecho no lo vi venir si no hasta poco antes de leerlo. En cuanto al estilo narrativo diría que ha evolucionado de un estilo dark a uno más "normal", lo q no quiere decir q el libro sea "comer ...more
Oct 11, 2007 Mariel rated it it was amazing
A haunting story and psychological thriller. A portrait artist in early 20th century New York gets the offer for a commission of a lifetime: paint a woman's portrait without being able to see her and receive enough payment to be able to stop painting portraits and focus on work he is passionate about. He can only ask her questions about her life. The artist is quickly pulled into this warped tale of Mrs. Charbuque's life - never knowing what is real and what is pure childhood fantasy. There is a ...more
Jun 28, 2010 Juliet rated it really liked it
Delicious, atmospheric little mystery. Surprisingly engaging for the supposedly tiny mystery within, and I actually found the additional plot-line and subsequent reveal a bit garish and tacked-on. Great little historical with the feel of an old Sherlock Holmes story that doesn't need the extra drama apparently added for spice. A ghost story without a ghost.
Anthony Panegyres
Dec 18, 2016 Anthony Panegyres rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spec-fic, fiction
Jeffrey Ford is to be congratulated for his own masterful portrait of Victorian era New York. If I had to be hypercritical, I'd say the ending didn't quite do justice to the incredible journey beforehand, but I have high expectations whenever I read Ford - and he always surpasses them. A truly wonderful writer.
Jun 09, 2009 Mary-Beth rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a great deal. It's full of plot twists, right till the very end. I always like a good novel about a painter and this one didn't disappoint with it's slightly supernatural mysteries.

A painter is asked to pain a portrait of a woman he has never seen while a horrifying mystery illness ravages the local women who end up dying bleeding tears of blood.
David VanEsselstyn
Dec 29, 2010 David VanEsselstyn rated it it was amazing
A little bit heavy on the allegories, but overall a really fun and unique read. Loved reading about late 1800's New York City, and it was a great page turner by the end. The art references were really fun as well - loved having a painter as a protagonist.
Jul 14, 2009 Carolina rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. Kept us both reading well into the night. Great premise, historic facts and suspense. I am not sure how I had never heard of this author but I am reading more of his period pieces and they are fun to read.
Feb 07, 2012 Chere rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, mystery
The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque was a very engaging read for me. I found Mrs. Charbuque to be quite an intriguing figure, and I enjoyed reading about Piambo's unusual commission. This deftly-written novel by Jeffrey Ford left me wanting to read more from the author.
Fabulating, historical art mystery on the essence of personhood. Very thought-provoking read.
Apr 09, 2010 malrubius rated it it was amazing
Reread October 2011. Gripping and strange. Precisely detailed and incredibly well written. A little-known artistic masterpiece.
Nov 21, 2010 Richard rated it really liked it
Nobody writes like Ford. My only quibble was the ending, which seemed a little rushed, but the level of imagination and Ford's unique perspective makes this one a must.
Jeffrey Ford to kolejny po Paolo Bacigalupim, Ianie R. MacLeodzie i Ianie McDonaldzie pisarz, który doczekał się omnibusu w Uczcie Wyobraźni, łączącego w jednym woluminie zbiór opowiadań oraz powieść. Takie wydanie to zawsze idealna okazja, by zapoznać się z pełnym spektrum literackich możliwości autora i stwierdzić, w jakiej formie poradził sobie lepiej — długiej czy krótkiej. W przypadku Forda trudno wydać jednoznaczny werdykt, ponieważ amerykańskiemu pisarzowi równie łatwo przychodzi zaintere ...more
Steven Klotz
In New York 1893, an accomplished painter, Piambo, is offered a strange commission to paint the portrait of a woman solely based on the stories she tells hidden from view behind a screen. There’s quite a lot of money at stake and from the offset it feels like an extrapolation of the tug of war between the commercial and creative needs of a professional artist. Each tale she tells of her childhood and later history is more fantastical than the next and draws strange parallels with Piambo’s experi ...more
Felix Zilich
Dec 19, 2011 Felix Zilich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Нью-Йорк конца XIX века. Преуспевающий салонный портретист Пьеро Пьямбо уже несколько лет страдает от творческой неудоволетворенности. Ему упорно кажется, что, рисуя за хорошие деньги портреты богатых горожан, он с каждым днем только растрачивает последние крупинки собственного таланта. Поэтому странный заказ от загадочной миссис Шарбук Пьямбо живописец принимает просто с невероятным энтузиазмом. Дело в том, что условие новой клиентки весьма необычно. Пьямбо должен написать её портрет, но при эт ...more
Ondrej Urban
Jan 23, 2013 Ondrej Urban rated it really liked it
...or rather a three and a half stars - this book has a great premise but somewhat poor execution.

When I bought this book, and what actually drove me to read it, was this somewhat similar premise to the statue building from the beginning of Perdido Street Station, where an artist is trying to make a statue of a mysterious character. Well, Mrs. Charbuque's story is not like that and, to a slight incomfort to my narrow-minded literature taste, is not really a fantasy book. On the other hand, it's
Feb 20, 2016 Spiderorchid rated it did not like it
The premise of this novel sounded promising: a painter being commissioned to paint a portrait of a woman just by talking to her with her sitting behind a screen, never allowed to see her. A novel about art and identity set in 19th century New York. This could have been great. Instead, it was boring.

There are several problems with this novel. First, Ford is unable to write compelling characters. His protagonists are cardboard, so bland that you simply don't care what happens to them. The only rea
Feb 12, 2017 Maria rated it liked it
Its as if "The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque" just didn't get along with me. Its not that the story wasn't interesting, there were sufficient twists and turns with mysterious Mrs. Charbuque but somehow I just didn't get how the Painter could be so completely entranced with her in order to be so dependent on her. so, this was rather a disappointment, but not because of the book itself (thats why I gave it 3 stars, the book holds a certain charm and could definitely be intestering for a lot of people ...more
Aug 03, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was ok
Egads, People. I suppose my experience with this book was my own fault. I see a book about Victorian times, and I get all excited and spooky-feeling, especially when I see that the book is about a guy painting a portrait of a woman he's not allowed to look at.

But, as has happened with other recent books set in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the author decides to sprinkle in sex that is either overly graphic, overly lurid, or overly violent in some way that distracts from the atmosphere of t
Rob Boley
Feb 26, 2016 Rob Boley rated it it was amazing
I miss this book already. It was a true joy to immerse into this bizarre tale at the end of every day. For me, this was a story to be savored, sipping only a few chapters at a time. And yet, all too soon it came to an end. Like all of Ford's stories, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque features startling imagination and skillful writing. Seriously, Ford could take the directions for cooking orzo pasta and somehow find a captivating, beautiful, and original way to tell it. The man is a treasure, and t ...more
This book is among those that make it difficult for me to recap the impressions and feelings I had reading it. There was nothing that really stood out negatively or positively to me, except possibly the setting. I have read a few c. 1890 books, and this attempt matched rather well with my current impressions of the period.

Getting into the book, I just thought it was going to be a bit of weirdness, I didn't anticipate the whole dying women angle, and I'm not sure whether or not I thought it adde
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Endicott Mythic F...: This topic has been closed to new comments. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque: A Novel - Discussion 11 36 Aug 04, 2009 05:45AM  
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Jeffrey Ford is an American writer in the Fantastic genre tradition, although his works have spanned genres including Fantasy, Science Fiction and Mystery. His work is characterized by a sweeping imaginative power, humor, literary allusion, and a fascination with tales told within tales. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he studied with the novelist John Gar ...more
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