A novel set in England in the 18th century with world shattering events such as the French Revolution and the beginnings of the Napoleonic era playing out as background. The center of the story are happenings that occurred to the British Royal Academy and involve a scandal Halliburton researched that actually did occur.
The year was 1797 and Benjamin West, an American artist living in London, is approached by a father-daughter duo. They are attempting to interest him in buying a manuscript authored by the great painterc Titian. The piece was indicated to be an outline and description of Titian’s use of colors which allowed him to paint in the commanding style he did. Colors mixed for paintings in those days were generally proprietary to the individual artist with only a small quantity available for purchase from known suppliers.
West was also going through a down period in his paintings leading him to meet with Ann Jemima and her father to see if what they had could help him in breaking out of the doldrums. The Provis duo advised that their grandfather had left the manuscript to his family and they were able to do as they wished with it.
The novel represents a very sound idea and background for an attractive story. The research done in order to set up the late 18th century is well done. Unfortunately, Halliburton allows the characters to continually get involved in long drawn out conversations rather than action to move the story forward. It becomes too easy for the reader to lose interest in what is going on. The well researched material going into the novel gets lost when subjected to the conversations that merely allude to the actions occurring.
This is Halliburton’s first novel and it definitely shows an ability to get the research that would showcase any era. It would be easy for her to attract readers by simply keeping talk to a minimum and showing forward motion via action.
6/18 Paul Lane
THE OPTIKAL ILLUSION by Rachel Halliburton. The Overlook Press (June 5, 2018). ISBN 978-1468316292. 352p.