Artfully Yours by Joanna Lowell
February 21, 2022
Review by Kate H.
Who are more diametrically opposed than an art forger and an art critic? Artfully Yours begins in the late 19th century, with Alan, aka Lord De’ath, the formidable art critic, declaring that the painting in his brother’s drawing room is not a Rembrandt, but rather a fake. Little does he know in that moment that the forger, one Nina Finch, is standing the room with him, posing as the help. She’s a lousy servant, really only there to recover some papers, and is quickly fired by Alan’s brother. Alan takes in an interest in making up for his brother’s insufferable treatment of servants and offers her a position in his household. She declines, but then her brother, the taskmaster behind the forgery operation, sends her back out to spy and keep Lord De’ath from learning the truth.
Not only are they ideologically enemies – Lord De’ath finds forgeries so repugnant because they cultivate interest in the old masters and take away attention from innovative art of the present – but there is distinctly a class difference between them. Alan is quite the iconoclast – his household is full of artists, writers, and musicians who sometimes double as butlers and other household help. His way of living is clearly a rejection of his family, and especially his brother’s stilted observance of high society. And he spends part of the novel trying to get from under his brother’s financial thumb. But it is impossible to forget he is a man of the upper classes. Nina, on the other hand, is hoping to scrape her ill-gotten earnings together to retire to the country and take over operation of a bakery.
Despite these massive differences, Alan and Nina are drawn to one another, even as Alan is trying to uncover the forger and Nina is trying to draw his attention away from the truth. I loved this premise and the dynamic it set up, though I thought the relationship developed quite fast – think insta-fast. The only thing that slows it slightly is Nina’s loyalty to her brother.
In addition to central tension in the novel – will Alan find out? What will he do? – there are other running subplots. Nina’s brother, who seems both wrong and wronged, caring, and manipulative, talented yet frustrated, looms large in this novel and I kind of wonder if there will be a sequel featuring his story after the events in Artfully Yours. There’s also a fascinating running story about Alan, his childhood, and his relationship with his sickly nephew, that becomes central to Alan and Nina’s relationship.
I am pretty good at suspension of disbelief when I read, but there was one part of this novel that was so unbelievable me. Nina gets trained as a painter by her brother, who spent a year or two at the Royal Academy. He also takes her through various museums and galleries, teaching her about the styles of various painters. Somehow, in a fairly short period of time, she is able to create paintings that pass for the work of a wide range of painters. It’s the range that seems improbably to me. Though I thought it was masterstroke that we find out that Nina does not actually like painting.
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