The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
The Marriage Portrait is a dazzling evocation of the Italian Renaissance in all its beauty and brutality.
Winter, 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her.
Lucrezia is sixteen years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away inside Florence’s grandest palazzo. Here, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.
What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival.
The Marriage Portrait is an unforgettable reimagining of the life of a young woman whose proximity to power places her in mortal danger.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell was my book of the year for 2020 and now recently out in hardback is the new book from a writer I admire greatly. The Marriage Portrait (Tinder Press) is just as unforgettable and will undoubtedly be in the running for my book of the year.
The Marriage Portrait is set during the Italian Renaissance. The year is 1561 and it is the reimagining of the story of a young woman, 16-year-old Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. Lucrezia is now forced into a marriage to a man she has not met. It was to be her older sister Maria who was to have wed Alfonso d’Este the soon to be Duke of Ferrara but after her sister died Lucrezia was to take her place. Lucrezia though a bit more outgoing than her sister and had little interests in dressing up and much preferred being in nature and so marriage was a shock to her. It was her father Cosimo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany who only wanted the very best marriages for his daughters and so it was that Lucrezia was to become the wife of Alfonso.
Very soon after the wedding Lucrezia is whisked away to a country villa or so it seems and something unusual in the fact there is none of the usual entourage that would accompany Alfonso let alone anyone to attend to Lucrezia. Something sinister is happening within the walls of villa. Alfonso is not the loving husband they believed he would be but more controlling and it soon apparent to the young Lucrezia that court life is constrained and not the life she once knew. But worse much worse is to follow. She is now at the mercy of Alfonso. She is there for one reason to make sure there is an heir to Alfonso’s dynasty. This has not happened and now lives in fear of her ever-increasing erratic husband.
I am not going to give anything away as that will spoil the book for anyone who is yet to read The Marriage Portrait but all I will say is that this is just another outstanding book by Maggie O’Farrell. A book you can easily loose a weekend to and never have any regrets. It is evocative and compelling and so beautifully written. For an historical piece of writing Maggie O’Farrell has yet again raised the bar so high you must wonder how she can follow this.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell Published by Tinder Press on 30 August 2022 and is now in hardback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org