Iowa City Public Library's Reviews > The Forgery of Venus

The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber
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's review
Jul 17, 2010

bookshelves: john, fiction, staff-picks-blog, mysteries

I really like Michael Gruber‘s literate thrillers, which are often spiced with a touch of the supernatural. While not his best, Forgery of Venus has plenty to offer. Chaz Wilmot is a supremely gifted painter, who, repelled by the easy success of his father, described as a latter day Norman Rockwell, has turned his back on the lucrative aspects of the art biz, resulting in poverty and damaged personal relationships. His ex owns a gallery, for instance, and can’t understand why he won’t cash in. Neither can Wilmot most of the time.

To earn a few bucks, he takes part in a medical experiment, takes the drug salvia, and finds himself experiencing scenes from the life of the painter Diego Velasquez. Experiencing them. Moreover, he find that during these blackouts he can produce work indistinguishable from that of the sixteenth century master. An ex-Nazi seduces him by degrees into a lucrative forgery scheme, but before long Wilmot can’t distinguish just which person he is, once spending three months as Velasquez, finding, when he returns to the present, a new lover he barely knows and a body of work he doesn’t remember painting.

It’s all just a little too busy, and the salvia experiences are as bogus as Castenada’s peyote trips, tho, hey, it’s only a premise. He could just as easily have been struck by lightning or bonked on the head. What does work here are the authorial voice, the settings (Rome, Venice, Bavaria) the frame tale, and the art talk, in some ways the best part of the book. Gruber’s married to a painter, and the technical details ring true, tho I have to confess ignorance.

Again, not Gruber’s best, but well worth a look, especially if you love painting. --John

From ICPL Staff Picks Blog

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