Beatrice Masini spent ten years working on this novel, which I find fascinating, as this story features a number of characters working on lengthy creative endeavours, some more successful than others. The Watercolourist‘s central character is Bianca. Bianca. who is young and recently orphaned, is offered a post as illustrator for a well-known author. Her job is to document and colour every single plant on the large summer estate. As the project is so lengthy, Bianca becomes involved with the large family and other semi-permanent guests.
Bianca’s role is somewhere between employee and guest. Although there is a clear barrier between her and the female members of the family, she isn’t popular with the other employees, who see her as ‘above her station’. So Bianca is both involved and apart – and this starts her down her trail of observing the household members.
This is a cleverly written book. It starts out very focused on Bianca’s everyday experiences – her work, her efforts at getting to know the family. It then slowly turns more insular, and we learn more of Bianca’s developing thoughts – thoughts that distract and consume her. Her art, her main concern and occupation at the start, changes over time as her inner thoughts become her chief affair. She is oblivious to the danger in this – while ruminating over the lives of the family she lives with, she does not observe the risk in her situation.
I read the last few pages of the book in a great rush, fascinated by the ending. It was very good, and exceptionally well done. As a historical novel, it offers an insight into Milan in the nineteenth century. There is political unrest, as well as a lot of detail on the lives and choices available to women of different classes. Even though it is a historic novel, it feels more like a drama or even a mystery. I was really impressed. I highly recommend this book.
Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming
by Beatrice Masini, translated by Clarissa Ghelli
Published by Mantle