The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell


● The Marriage Portrait begins as such:

In 1560, fifteen-year-old Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici left Florence to begin her married life with Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. Less than a year later, she would be dead. The official cause of her death was given as ‘putrid fever’ but it was rumoured that she had been murdered by her husband.

Now, I’m not often a fan of historical fiction set in royal contexts. There is usually a complex and vast array of characters to remember; stylised language to suit the era, which is clunky if you are not familiar with it; and narratives of which authors often expect the reader to have prior knowledge of.

But this opening page had me intrigued. So I dove in, and I am very pleased I did. I loved this book so much. The characters are real (obviously fictionally re-imagined, with important alterations to fact noted in the back), they are portrayed richly and each and every one is memorable, not lost in a cast of excess. The language is careful, seems realistic, and is easy to read. The plot is well paced and enticing. The descriptions are so vivid that I can still see the passageways and rooms of the villas and palazzo in my mind. I can imagine the fashions, the hairstyles and the paintings which are also vividly described.

The narrative is not just about the Duchess’ married life, but her life as a bold child, and as a young women who maintains her spark while quashed with the expectations of life married to an older Duke. Lucrezia deals with her organised marriage with astuteness and practicality without her character appearing over written or fake. The entire book is like a feast, it is rich and delicious with much attention to detail. I would widely recommend it. – Rachel

● At the risk of sounding like a boomer shaking my fist at the young ones of today, it was so nice reading a book that was just storytelling at its absolute best. There was nothing fan dangled about The Marriage Portrait, although that’s not to say it wasn’t immensely clever. Maggie O’Farrell’s evocation of 16th century Italy was so well done I was right there wandering the palazzo with Lucrezia.

And I know I have banged on about this a few times in my reviews now, but I am always so happy to see historical fiction imagining the life of women as a move towards some slight rebalancing of the utterly male dominated history books. I loved this book and feel like I could unreservedly recommend it to pretty much all readers and it would be thoroughly enjoyed. – Suzy

Published 2022
Knopf Publishing Group
355 pages

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