Ilaria Bernardini

May 14, 2021

The Portrait

A Novel

Simon and Schuster 2021

The Portrait is a story full of ambiguity and suspense, one that works on many different levels and holds the reader’s attention until the very last page. Recently published to great acclaim, the book will soon become a Sky TV mini-series.

An internationally renowned writer, Valeria Costas has dedicated her life to her work and to her secret lover, Martìn Acla, a prominent businessman. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes; the idea of losing him is terrifying. Desperate to find a way to be present during her lover's final days, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait - insinuating herself into Martìn's family home and life.

In the grand, chaotic London mansion where the man they share - husband, father, lover - lies in a coma, Valeria and Isla remain poised on the brink, transfixed by one another. Day after day, the two women talk to each other during the sittings, revealing truths, fragilities and strengths. But does Isla know of the writer's long involvement with Martìn? Or that her husband had chosen Valeria for the years ahead? Amidst their own private turmoil, the stories of their lives are exchanged - and as the portrait takes shape, we watch these complex and extraordinary women struggle while the love of their lives departs, in an unforgettable, breathless tale of deception and mystery that captivates until the very end.

In what she called a 'beautiful' conversation with Duncan McCargo, Ilaria Bernadini explains, inter alia: why she chose to write The Portrait (Simon and Schuster, 2021) in English; the disarmingly rich imaginative hinterlands of her secondary characters; what it was like to have her own portrait painted; and, most importantly, how, when Martìn falls desperately ill, Valeria suddenly becomes open to new people and to re-reading closed chapters of her life. 

If you want to know how far The Portrait trangresses into the realm of magical realism, and what possible sequels Ilaria may write, you need to listen to this intriguing podcast about an extremely compelling and important new novel. 

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Duncan McCargo

Duncan McCargo is an eclectic, internationalist political scientist, and literature buff: his day job is directing the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, at the University of Copenhagen.

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