Page-turner of the week
Susan Vreeland set a high standard with Girl in Hyacinth Blue, her best selling 1999 novel inspired by a Vermeer painting. The Passion of Artemisia, another historical novel about real-life painters, is even better. The earlier novel, for all its strengths, sometimes digressed into bromides about the transcendence of art. The new one sticks to its story and its character.
And what a character. Vreeland tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), a dazzling painter whose often wretched personal life nearly killed her creative one. Using historical fact as a springboard, the novel traces 20 tumultuous years in Gentileschi's life, from a rape at 17—for which she is blamed—to an arranged marriage with Pietro Stiattesi, another promising painter. The loveless union warms with the birth of a daughter, but goes into deep freeze when Artemisia upstages her husband to win a place at Florence's Accademia dell'Arte. She isn't about to trade her paintbrush for her man. Vreeland's I unsentimental prose turns the factual Artemisia into a fictional heroine you won't soon forget. (Viking, $24.95)
Bottom Line: Picture perfect