The Girl in the Painting is a historical novel set in Australia. Most of the book takes place in the early 1900's (1906 - 1910's) when Jane Piper is placed by her orphanage in the home of brother and sister Michael and Elizabeth Quinn. When Jane goes to an art exhibit with her Aunt Elizabeth, Elizabeth has a panic attack and ends up sobbing on the floor. Jane works with her Uncle Michael to unravel the mystery of what has upset Elizabeth so profoundly. The book flashes back to the early years of Michael and Elizabeth as they traveled from England to Australia as children.
I wanted to read this novel because I enjoyed the author's previous book The Woman in the Green Dress.
This is a fascinating and unusual read. The complex story is set primarily in early 1900's Australia but flashes back to the childhood and youth of Michael and Elizabeth Quinn. Jane is a brilliant child/young woman who is a math prodigy. Her deductive skills come in handy as she works to find out the mysteries of Elizabeth's childhood that is impacting her present.
There are so many intriguing aspects of this novel - the gold fields where Michael works in his youth, the life of Chinese-Americans in Australia during this period (seen through a close friend of Michael whom Elizabeth becomes interested in), life at the auction house, the role of women during these times. I also found the artist Marigold and her work fascinating. For instance:
"She peered more closely. A weathered church tucked into the fold of the hill surrounded by ancient headstones, tilted like old men’s teeth, every patch of lichen highlighted. Several sarcophagi, chipped and worn, and to one side a large circular burial vault. Jane moved a little closer. All the other pictures had cards next to them describing the painting, but not this one. There was something about it that appeared familiar. She glanced over her shoulder. Mrs. Witherspoon was nowhere to be seen, so she hoisted the picture from the hook, turned it around, propped it against the wall, and crouched down. A small piece of paper glued to the back rewarded her ingenuity. Marigold Penter, The village church, 1889, oil on canvas And then she remembered. The wife of the self-confident man who’d annoyed Michael at the gallery in Sydney. It must be one of the pictures he’d been talking about. She studied the vibrant colors and wide brush strokes, the way the light glanced off the church windows, and the long shadows thrown by the circular vault, then she spotted the girl, almost hidden beneath the wide branches of a tree. She could hardly tell the color of the clothes the girl was wearing, all a pale gray-blue, almost as though she were fading away. It looked as though Lucy had spilt bleaching powder all over her." (eBook location 1108).
I found the mystery in this novel very intriguing and ended up reading it in just two days because I wanted to know what happened next. There were twists and turns and twists again.
I recommend The Girl in the Painting for fans of historical fiction and especially for anyone interested in Australia and historical fiction involving art.
A young prodigy in need of family. A painting that shatters a woman’s peace. And a decades-old mystery demanding to be solved.
Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship— having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were.
Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business.
But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and the present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late.
From the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, this compelling novel takes us on a mystery across continents and decades as both women finally discover a place to call home.
Tea is an award-winning Australian author of historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist, and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the bestselling author of several novels, including The Horse Thief, The Cedar Cutter, The Currency Lass, The Naturalist’s Daughter, The Woman in the Green Dress, and The Girl in the Painting.
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The Girl in the Painting