The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque

Book - 2002
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Baker & Taylor
In 1893, portraitist Piero Piambo is commissioned to paint the portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, but he finds this assignment bizarre as his client insists he never look at her, and must enact a true likeness from questions of his subject.

HARPERCOLL

The toast of 1893 New York society, the portraitist Piero Piambo has his pick of choice assignments. Acclaimed by his peers and his "betters," he is a fixture in the city's most opulent salons, yet he fears he has sold his soul to arrive there. But then comes a commission unlike any other -- one that will test Piambo's talents, his will...and his sanity.

The client is a Mrs. Charbuque, and the offer she makes to the artist is as bizarre and intriguing as it is financially rewarding. Piambo must paint the lady's portrait, and for the service he may name any price. However, though he may question her at length on any topic, he must never look upon his subject. And if the painting ends up a true likeness, his payment will be doubled.

With sketchbook in hand and his "model" hidden behind an elegant screen, the artist begins his haunting descent into her life and mind. Carried by her words through a strange childhood in a world of ice -- where she aided an obsessed, perhaps murderous, father in his study of the divine language of snowflakes -- and across a history marked by fame and despair, desire and rage, phantasm and myth, Piambo is alternately seduced and repulsed by the story she has to tell. Yet each session leaves him more determined than ever to unwrap the enigma that is Mrs. Charbuque.

But while he struggles to capture in oils the face of a woman he has never seen, a series of horrific and inexplicable deaths rocks the outside city. On street corners, in the alleys off the bustling shopping areas, and between the crumbling tenements, anonymous women are dying, their lifeblood flowing freely like tears from their eyes. And the deeper Piambo is drawn into Mrs. Charbuque's world, the more he begins to suspect that these terrible events, his impossible task, and his odd "benefactress" are somehow intimately connected.

An astonishing amalgam of the works of Henry James and Raymond Chandler, Jeffrey Ford's The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque is a rare and rewarding reading experience -- equally satisfying as a hypnotically compelling literary work, a richly atmospheric historical novel, and a page-turning thriller. It will leave an indelible mark.



Blackwell North Amer
The toast of 1893 New York society, the portraitist Piero Piambo has his pick of choice assignments. Acclaimed by his peers and his "betters," he is a fixture in the city's most opulent salons, yet he fears he has sold his soul to arrive there. But then comes a commission unlike any other - one that will test Piambo's talents, his will .. and his sanity.
The client is a Mrs. Charbuque, and the offer she makes to the artist is as bizarre and intriguing as it is financially rewarding. Piambo must paint the lady's portrait, and for the service he may name any price. However, though he may question her at length on any topic, he must never look upon his subject. And if the painting ends up a true likeness, his payment will be doubled.
With sketchbook in hand and his "model" hidden behind an elegant screen, the artist begins his haunting descent into her life and mind. Carried by her words through a strange childhood in a world of ice - where she aided an obsessed, perhaps murderous, father in his study of the divine language of snowflakes - and across a history marked by fame and despair, desire and rage, phantasm and myth, Piambo is alternately seduced and repulsed by the story she has to tell. Yet each session leaves him more determined than ever to unwrap the enigma that is Mrs. Charbuque.
But while he struggles to capture in oils the face of a woman he has never seen, a series of horrific and inexplicable deaths rocks the outside city. On street corners, in the alleys off the bustling shopping areas, and between the crumbling tenements, anonymous women are dying, their lifeblood flowing freely like tears from their eyes. And the deeper Piambo is drawn into Mrs. Charbuque's world, the more he begins to suspect that these terrible events, his impossible task, and his odd "benefactress" are somehow intimately connected.

Baker
& Taylor

Hired by a mysterious woman who offers him a fortune to paint her portrait while refusing to let him see her, 1890s society artist Piambo is challenged to glean her visage while she sits behind a screen and recounts her life to him, a situation that is further complicated by a series of murders and a threatening note.

Publisher: New York : Morrow, [2002]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2002
ISBN: 9780066211268
0066211263
Branch Call Number: FIC Ford, J 2002
Characteristics: 310 pages ; 24 cm

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bwrogers
Oct 01, 2017

A strange little novel, but enjoyable all the way through. It's atmospheric and cleverly positioned in its setting, a quick jaunt through a dark mirror into a gilded age. At times it sags under the requirements of the plot, but is redeemed by the story-telling. A worthwhile read.

s
salgeogal
Jul 13, 2016

7 out of 10. The ending just didn't hold up for me. Felt rushed and made up at the last minute as compared to the rest of the story

fillups Jan 31, 2011

During the Victorian era,
a mysterious woman commissions a portrait but the artist must paint her without seeing her. Instead the painter must listen to her describe her life and deduce her appearance from her voice and life story.

Meanwhile a series of mysterious deaths which result in the victims weeping tears of blood starts raging through New York.

Ford paints a beautiful, surreal gaslit version of a New York that never was, filled with shadows and dangers. A fun, twisting mystery!!

A great book to curl up with on a cold winter's evening!

e
elloyd74
Jul 08, 2008

A true literary thriller. In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Piambo is a young artist earning his bread painting "corrective" portraits of plain society wives, beautifying them for the canvas and their husbands. He has a crisis of conscience when one woman, standing under her portrait, leans close and whispers, "I hope you die." As he restlessly wanders the streets that night, a blind man approaches, claiming to know him by his dishonest smell, and offers him the commission of a lifetime: paint a portrait of his employer and receive compensation so grand that he will never have to paint another wife. The catch? Piambo will not be permitted to see Mrs. Charbuque. She will sit behind a screen, and he may ask her questions; from the answers he is to divine her essence. If he captures her likeness, compensation will triple. From this irresistible premise, Ford devilishly spins his story in prose so controlled-yet so dark with underlying fever and inevitability-that it calls to mind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The philosophical and psychological aspects loom large, and Mrs. Charbuque is a near-masterpiece-part sphinx, part hydra, the stuff of the most potent myths.

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