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The Crimson Portrait: A Novel
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The Crimson Portrait: A Novel

2.75  ·  Rating details ·  392 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
Spring 1915. On a sprawling country estate not far from London a young woman mourns her husband, fallen on the battlefields of what has been declared the first World War...
But the isolated and eerie stillness in which she grieves is shattered when her home is transformed into a bustling military hospital to serve the war's most irreparably injured. Disturbed by the intrus
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Back Bay Books (first published December 1st 2006)
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Nov 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's 1915 and Catherine finds herself like one of many women, a young widow. Heartbroken and lost, she decides to honor her late husbands wishes to allow the troops to use their beautiful, sprawling mansion as a make-shift hospital. Little does she know how much her decision will change the rest of her life.

As she watches her home become an absence of her former life, she slowly finds herself grasping for comfort in the dream of her dead husband. As she begins to take part in helping at the hos
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This story never really went anywhere. At the abrupt ending I was left feeling like I could've just read the synopsis on the book jacket and been done with it. The story was told from the perspectives of several different characters, none of which were very interesting or well-developed. Aside from knowing that Catherine was a widow and that she was sad I never got to know her and couldn't identify with her much at all. It would've been nice to hear Julian's perspective. In summary, the premise ...more
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Simply put, I was just bored by this book. The characters weren't interesting enough. The story progressed painfully slowly, and it ultimately fell flat. I kept hoping it would get more colorful and I would feel some emotion for these people...but that moment never came. Don't waste your time on this one.
Jan 18, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Set in England during World War I at a country estate turned into an army hospital, this novel explores some potentially riveting issues including the terrors of warfare, loss of identity and true love. Although the book is well-written, I did not care for the author's narrative style. I was not drawn into the story and found none of the characters particularly appealing.
Carla Nayland
Billed as a literary thriller in the jacket copy, this may be literary but I did not find it thrilling. Disappointing narrative with no discernible plot, set in a military hospital in the First World War.
Oct 22, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so boring I didn't even finish it. The characters were poorly developed and I never quite understood the heroine's motivation for her actions.
Oct 21, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
a book club selection disliked by all.
Jun 24, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Pre-finished review below. Only thing I have to add now that I'm done is that it didn't get any better. At the end, she is so artistic in her writing that it is actually unclear what happened to all the main characters. A disaster of a novel. I strongly recommend NOT reading this book, and I hope that Shields' other novel(s) were at least remotely less self-consciously "literary".

I haven't finished this book yet, but want to record my current impression so I don't forget it - the prose is posed
Dec 21, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Based on a true story, Catherine transforms her house into a military hospital per her late husband’s wish during WWI. It is 1915 outside London, as her house changes its status. Her servants leave her but two people, young boy and an old gardener. Once the house fills with suffering men she has a hard time coping with this. But unexpectedly she finds solace in the company of one wounded soldier.

I do not like the style of writing of this author. The story is boring. The descriptions are boring a
Sara Madden
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in WWI
Recommended to Sara by: Saw it at Costco and finally purchased it
Shelves: history
WWI, as in any war, has many layers and facets that history has written down somewhere, and forgotten where they placed them. This story is one part of the War that many probably didn't know existed and the author intricately paints a picture of one place and time during the War that was overlooked.

The book was part educational, part research and the rest was a canvas of beautiful colors painted onto a sepia portrait.

I loved the question in the book that delves deep into our souls that asks ".
Nov 19, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh, this book was awful. I thought the premise was really interesting. This woman's husband dies and, according to the jacket cover, she has to decide if she wants to remake another man in her husbands image. Well, the jacket cover was probably the best part of the whole book. The characters were mind-numbingly boring and underexplored, the story didn't go anywhere, and I didn't really sympathize with anyone except McCleary, who was not developed to my satisfaction. I have never read anything b ...more
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a good summer read. Amazing character development and details about facial muscles and other medical stuff. I really like this author. The end kind of bugged me though. It wasn't conclusive enough for me. Also, some of the characters' interactions with each other were so awkward!! Over all, I thought it was a fun read, especially if you like romance, or war-time eras.
Jun 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding novel set in early WWI, with detailed attention to the early days of craniofacial reconstructive surgery. A fascinating look at the attempts by the surgeons, artists, and craftsmen to reconstruct faces shattered by war.
Dec 08, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't finish, barely started,

Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Less an actual story and more a recitation of all the stuff the author learned from her research.
Ana T.
May 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
"Spring 1915. On a sprawling country estate not far from London a young woman
mourns her husband, fallen on a distant battlefield…

The eerie stillness in which she grieves is shattered as her home is transformed into a bustling military hospital. Unsettled by the intrusion of the suffering soldiers, the increasingly fragile widow finds unexpected solace in the company of a wounded officer whose mutilated face, concealed by bandages, she cannot see. But then their affair takes an unexpected turn. F
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story:
Catherine is a young woman who has just recently become a WWI widow. Her estate is perfectly preserved in the state it was in when her husband was still in residence, but now it has been taken over in order to become a wartime hospital. Specifically it is dedicated to patients with devastating facial wounds who need the particular care of maxillofacial experts. Catherine is horrified that her home - her life - is being invaded. But then one day she catches a glimpse of a wounded soldie
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-book
I was pulled into this book by the inside jacket----and I had read The Fig Eaters by the same author and loved her writing style, so I gave it a whirl. It really started off as a great story, one filled with the angst of WWI, and how it affected several lives that eventually intertwine. The premise is about a woman that loses her husband in the war----so she uses her mansion to house a special hospital that deals with men that have extreme facial injuries.
She ends up falling for one of the pati
(Rating of 2.5 stars) This novel takes place in England after the commencement of WWI and is a historical fiction based on several real people (Anna Coleman and Dr. Kazanjian). Catherine has lost her husband to the war, and is struggling to deal with her loss and the intrusion of turning her estate home into a convalescent hospital for soldiers with serious facial wounds. Two doctors at the hospital, Dr. McCleary, previously retired, but returned to service, and Dr. Kazanjian, work together to t ...more
Jan 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-1
A strangely absorbing read. I guess when you are a bit of a history buff anything in that vein absorbs, so I'm glad I didn't take on board all the Goodreads reviews and give up at the first hurdle.

The book is loosely based on two actual historical figures, Anna Coleman Ladd, and Varaztad Kazanjian. Both worked in the treatment of the wounded in the First World War, where facial wounding was very common. Apparently, not a lot was known in this field, and Kazanjian improvised a lot with his treatm
Dec 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
if you have nothing better to do - read this book - a woman looses her husband and sees his ghost everywhere on their estate, the war explodes and her residence is converted into a hospital where the most horribly injured soldiers are brought.
They all have terrible facial wounds......there is a doctor who tires to reconstruct their faces so they can assimilate back into society - great part of the book. but you have to ask - is this to help the soldiers look "normal" or will they still end up n
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bookmarks Magazine

Jody Shields constructed her first novel, The Fig Eater (2000), around the imagined murder of Freud's famous patient Dora. Similarly, two historical figures (Anna Coleman Ladd and Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian) provide the kernel of her absorbing new novel. Most critics loved this literary exploration of grief despite its unhurried plot; they praised the novel's fascinating subject, its engaging characters, and its beautiful use of language. In sharp contrast, The New York Times criticized "pat similes

Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really more 3 1/2 stars. The description of the book is hugely misleading, but I'm glad it was. I never would have picked it up if the description had been accurate. I tend to be very squeamish about medical stuff, and that's a huge part of the book. I was really surprised that I found the graphic descriptions of injuries and medical procedures to be more interesting than gross.

Overall, I can't say it was a fun read. It was a fairly dark book, as you'd expect from a story set almost entirely in
Patricia Williams
This was a very interesting but strange book. I enjoyed reading it but it was a different kind of story line. Then there was lots of history in the book regarding England during World War I and the new medical practices the doctors were trying to devise to help the injured who had been in bombing areas and needed facial reconstruction. The story takes place in an Estate that has been taken over by the army as a medical facility. The woman who owns the estate is a little mentally ill IMO. But the ...more
Elyse Rudin
Well after not reading "Freedom", I then just finished this book. I would also have stopped reading this one but then I thought something might be wrong with me but now I'm reading a Louise Penny book and am loving it, thank goodness. This book was so slow that it was really difficult to get through. It definitely picked up half way through but at 300 pages that is not a positive. It takes place out side of London during WWI. A woman just lost her husband in the war and converts her estate to a ...more
Nov 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read Jody Shields’ first novel, The Fig Eater, I was delighted to find a second novel by this author. Set in a makeshift military hospital in England during WWI, this story deals with war and the physical and psychological trauma that result. Told through a cast of damaged but compelling characters, Shields’ prose is vaporous, poetic and haunting, reality blending seamlessly with imagination. The plot has some holes. On finishing, I had to go back and reconnect some details that were a bi ...more
Susan E
Feb 08, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-read
I was so intrigued by this premise... a woman who loses her husband during WWI has the chance to remake a wounded soldier's face into her husband's image. An English manor house is turned into a hospital for soldiers specifically with facial injuries. The widow who owns the house is resentful of the soldiers and medical personnel invading her grief. Such an interesting examination of the grieving process, and of early attempts to disguise/repair facial injuries from war. The flow of the story wa ...more
Kimberly Van De Graaff
This had to have been one of the worst books I have ever read. There were 6 characters and none of them were developed to my satisfaction. If she would have just taken one or two and developed them, it would have been great. The plot - WWl at a hospital where the Drs. were trying to save the faces of patients - is a good plot, but it never went anywhere. Even the ending was lacking. I wanted to quit in the middle, but I always try to finish what I start, so I did. Learning about WWl and the plas ...more
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Jody Shields is the former design editor of the New York Times Magazine and a former editor at Vogue, House and Garden, and Details. She has written several screenplays and has a master's degree in art. Her prints are in various collections, including the Museum of Modern Art. She lives in New York.
More about Jody Shields...