cover image The Portrait

The Portrait

Ilaria Bernardini. Pegasus, $25.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-64313-618-9

A sick man’s mistress infiltrates his family in Italian novelist Bernardini’s mournful English-language debut. When London business magnate Martin Aclà has a stroke and falls into a coma, his lover of 25 years, writer Valeria Costas, commissions his painter wife, Isla Lawndale, to make a portrait of her. Valeria travels from her home in Paris to London, where she pretends to not know anything about Isla and her children. As Valeria copes with the strain of not being near Martin, she remembers the death of her sister from leukemia as a child on the Greek island of Rhodes. During a rare call from her mother, Valeria rejects an invitation back to Greece, which she’s avoided for decades because of her grief. Valeria becomes friendly with Martin’s teenage daughter, Antonia, and Isla recruits Valeria to help find Antonia after she briefly disappears. At a dinner party, Martin’s best friend, who knows about the affair, quietly bullies Valeria into leaving London, which prompts her to return to Rhodes. There, she discovers her mother is very sick, which sends her further down a spiral of despair. A delicious final revelation upends Valeria’s perception of what others know about her, and adds poignancy to Bernardini’s portrayal of these women’s reckoning with love and loss. This engrossing outing will impress and surprise readers. Agent: David Forrer, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)