By Ilaria Bernardini
Pegasus Books; hardcover, 432 pages; $25.95
Ilaria Bernardini is a prolific writer in Italy, where she has released eight novels, including Faremo Doresta ("We Will Grow a Forest"), which was longlisted for Italy's prestigious Strega Prize. She also co-wrote the late renowned director Bernardo Bertolucci's last film, The Echo Chamber.
The Portrait is an ambiguous, electrifying story of a lover, a wife, and the man they have in common. It has just been released in the United States after winning praise across Europe and in the United Kingdom. It has also been longlisted for the Strega Prize, nominated by Academy Award winning director Paolo Sorrentino ("The Great Beauty").
It tells the story of an internationally renowned writer, Valeria Costas, who has dedicated her life to her work and to her secret lover, Martin Acla, a prominent businessman. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes.
Valeria is desperate to find a way to be present during her lover's final days, and she commission's Martin's artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait, insinuating herself into Martin's family and home.
While the man these two women share lies in a coma, Valeria and Isla remain poised on the brink, transfixed by one another. In the unique intimacy that arises between artist and sitter, the two women reveal truths, fragilities, and strength.
Left unanswered is if Isla knows the truth about Valeria and Martin, and what secrets is Isla holding onto. Amidst their own private turmoil, the portrait takes shape alongside our understanding of these complex and extraordinary women as they struggle while the love of their life departs.
The Portrait tells their unforgettable, breathless tale of deception and mystery that captivates until the very end.