The Heroine: Ella Graham, a thirty-something portrait artist at a crossroads. Abandoned without a word by her father at the age of five, Ella is shocked when she begins to receive messages from him, imploring her for forgiveness. At the same time, Ella finds herself falling in love with her newest portrait subject – her sister's fiance, Nate. While Ella has a gift for revealing her subject's inner selves through her art work, Ella must struggle to find her own truths in love and in her family.
The Highs: I was very drawn towards the family drama in The Very Picture of You. The mystery of Ella's father is intriguing and suspenseful; I was so eager to uncover the truth among the tangled web of stories told by Ella's mother that I had trouble putting this book down once I was about halfway through it. I also found the smaller mysteries contained in the subplots, the subjects of Ella's paintings, equally riveting, from the meaning behind Iris's antique watercolour to the cause of Mike Johns's depression to who killed Grace Clark.
I also enjoyed the complex characterization of Sue, Ella's mother, who is basically the main controller of the plot. Neurotic, determined and selfish, Sue manipulates her daughter's into living out her own dreams, though in a way that made me feel more sorry for her than outraged. I enjoy reading about interesting, unique and multi-dimensional characters and Sue was definitely one of those.
The Lows: I found The Very Picture of You to be a little too devoid of emotion. The characters, even Ella, seemed a little too mechanical and the story didn't really sitr up any strong emotions within me – it didn't make me feel anything. I felt Ella was a very passive character in the sense that it was difficult to get a good read of who she was and as a result, I found her a little boring to read about.
I also felt that the romance aspect was lacklustre and fell flat. While Ella falls in love with Nate, there is no real sexual tension or chemistry between the characters. I didn't really understand why she sudddenly fell in love with him, as in the author made no apparent effort to make Nate's character endearing, lovable, or even memorable. If it weren't for the added drama of the fact that Nate is Ella's sister's fiance, I probably would have forgotten there even was a romantic plot line to this novel. The mystery element of the story is much more prominent and interesting.
While I did enjoy Isabel Wolff's writing – simple, clean and to the point – I found a lot of grammer and punctuation issues within the novel that really annoyed me while I was reading. Perhaps it seems nit-pickity, but I expect that a professionally published book would be free of obvious errors like that.
Final Thoughts: I will probably read another of Isabel Wolff's novels, as I did find the book pleasant, but I don't think it is her best book.
Rating: The Very Picture of You earns five oil portraits out of ten.
Buy 'The Very Picture of You' on Amazon here
Connect with author Isabel Wolff here
Photo from here