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Book Review: The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell


After her success with Hamnet, Edinburgh- based author Maggie O’Farrell has made another magnificent dive into writing historical fiction, focusing this time on Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici and the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.

The Marriage Portrait centres around Lucrezia, third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici. She is conceived during thoughts of the wilderness, which superstitiously implies that she’ll become a feral female, and not disposed to humour her father’s pride. Left to wander the palazzo at will, she wonders at its treasures and observes its clandestine workings. She is invisible to many within the family until her older sister dies on the eve of her marriage to Alfonso d’Este, heir to the Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. In a twist of fate, Lucrezia is expected to step into her sister’s shoes at the age of only fifteen.

As Lucrezia sits for a painting, preserving her image for centuries to come, it’s evident that her duty is to preserve the Ferrara legacy. This opens the door to many questions, posed with the panache and style that O’Farrell delivers time after time. Pondering, with a prose delightfully building Lucrezia vividly in our minds, this novel is an epic trek through the mind of the adolescent as she navigates her new role. Exploring the possibility of the Duke’s role in Lucrezia’s death while striving to give a sense of place to 1560s Florence, O’Farrell ambitiously navigates issues faced by wild women during a time when it was less kind to be so. She paints a picture undoubtedly more effective than the portrait of Lucrezia all those years ago: one that will last for years to come.

The Marriage Portrait is out on 30 August, published by Tinder Press

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