The Art Forger – B.A. Shapiro

Posted 28 November, 2012 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 16 Comments


image from Algonquin

Title: The Art Forger

Author: B.A. Shapiro
Published: 2012 Pages: 355
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

In Short: Claire Roth makes her living reproducing famous paintings while waiting for the day when she can break through with her own artwork. She is finally offered an art showing of a lifetime at a well-known art gallery in Boston, but it comes with the price of forging a famous piece of artwork—the very same Degas that was stolen twenty five years prior in the infamous Gardner Museum Heist. Even as she hesitantly takes the commission, Claire can feel that things aren’t quite right with uncovered treasure.

Why I Read It: I first learned of this one through the Algonquin Fall Catalog and was thrilled to receive it in the mail from Algonquin’s publication staff.

Thoughts in General: The Art Forger has been receiving a tremendous amount of buzz, especially on twitter. While you won’t find this review to be as raving as some of the others, I did enjoy The Art Forger and was pleased that it kept interest with its multi-layered plot and storyline structure. The story is told mostly through Claire’s present day perspective, but there is also a story three years in the past that is told in snippets and always provides just enough to keep the reader wanting more. Interspersed between these alternating time-lines are (fictionalized) letters from Isabella Gardner to her niece; the letters add an additional layer of complexity and mystery to the current day plots. I personally love when books alternate between perspectives and time periods and this book was no exception.

Where this book fell flat for me, however, was in the writing style. And it wasn’t any fault of the author or anything in particular that rubbed me the wrong way, but going into this book I expected chocolate soufflé and I received chocolate pudding. I’m not sure why I had the expectations that I did—perhaps because this one is touted as a literary mystery or maybe because I had just finished the very richly written The Secret History—but when you expect one thing and get another the product never seems to taste quite right. The Art Forger is very plot-driven but I wanted it to be a bit more character and writing-driven.

Bottom Line: I still recommend The Art Forger as it is an entertaining read and provides a lot to think about in terms of what is art and what makes art or an artist’s work valuable. However, I did contact my book club after finishing and told them that I wasn’t sure that this would be the most discussion-worthy book. I think this one would have worked better for me had I not seen such incredibly high praise before reading. I do think it would make a fantastic and very visually stunning movie!

Anyway, you win some and you lose some. Was a good book–I just mentally had the bar set too high. Has that ever happened to you?

16 Responses to “The Art Forger – B.A. Shapiro”

  1. I hate it when that happens! The expectation thing, I mean. Sounds like a fun book anyway, will get it if I come across it somewhere.

  2. Buzz can definitely break a book for me. Hearing too much ahead of time, especially in terms of “You’re going to love this book! It is a-maz-ing,” can color my expectations and force a book to go flat. Sounds like an interesting story, though I have a feeling my reaction would be similar to yours!

  3. Requested this at the library because it sounded like a fun read and I love heist stories. Thanks for your honest opinion — I often feel a little let down by highly hyped books. But at least it’s chocolate ;)

  4. That souffle/pudding thing happened to me when I read The Gargoyle shortly after The Sparrow. I think I might have enjoyed it more had I not been comparing it to The Sparrow the whole time.

  5. This one doesn’t especially appeal to me and I’m not likely to read it, but I know the expectations game can be tough. Sorry this one fell short.

  6. I hadn’t heard of this one before, but it sounds right up my alley. I honestly don’t know that much about art, but I love art fiction, if that makes any sense.

  7. Thanks everyone for the comments. Let me reiterate that this was definitely an enjoyable book and I do recommend it. Unfortunately I had high high expectations, but I still had a fun time reading the book. And yes–the art aspects really are fascinating. I kept wishing that the book was illustrated but was glad to be able to google some of the paintings. ;)

    If you read it, I hope you enjoy it!

  8. I try really hard not to let the buzz cloud my expectations of a book but I must admit it happens all too often. I plan to read this soon so I’ll definitely try to keep my expectations down and hope for the best!