The Last Portrait of the Duchess of Alba

Antonio Larreta, Author Adler & Adler Publishers $0 (214p) ISBN 978-0-917561-42-9
The rich subject of Larreta's first novel, which, appearing under the title Volaverunt, has been a major popular and critical success in Spain, is the mystery of the Duchess of Alba's sudden death at 40 from undetermined causes. The beautiful Duchess, reputedly immortalized in Goya's renowned pair of paintings of the unnamed Maja, the naked and the clothed, was notorious for her flamboyant independence and had her enemies. So did she die of a sudden fever or was it suicide provoked by the rapid fading of her beauty and an ennui accelerated by addiction to the ``powder of the Andes'' and unappeased by a string of amours and a risky dabbling in palace intrigue? Or was she poisoned, as Madrid gossip would have it, at the instigation of her arch-rival the Queen, Maria Luisa? Larreta's account, in Carmell's smooth translation, is purportedly the recently discovered secret memoir of de Godoy, First Minister of Spain at the time of the Duchess's death in 1802, which, written years later, recounts, erstwhile lovers both, Godoy's and Goya's differing understandings of that fateful occasion. Ultimately, pleasurable as it is, the work disappoints, for the characters are insufficiently well rounded to evoke much sympathy, and the device of encapsulating commentaries within commentaries does not compensate for thinness of narrative line. BOMC alternate. (June)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
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