The Painting by Alison Booth, Review: The scars of art

The Painting by Alison Booth is an art theft mystery and perceptive contemporary exploration of the migrant experience. Read my full review.

The Painting Synopsis

The Painting, Book Review - author Alison Booth

When Anika Molnar flees her home country of Hungary not long before the break-up of the Soviet Union, she carries only a small suitcase – and a beautiful and much-loved painting of an auburn-haired woman in a cobalt blue dress from her family’s hidden collection. 

Arriving in Australia, Anika moves in with her aunt in Sydney, and the painting hangs in pride of place in her bedroom. But one day it is stolen in what seems to be a carefully planned theft, and Anika’s carefree life takes a more ominous turn. 

Sinister secrets from her family’s past and Hungary’s fraught history cast suspicion over the painting’s provenance, and she embarks on a gripping quest to uncover the truth. 

Hungary’s war-torn past contrasts sharply with Australia’s bright new world of opportunity in this moving and compelling mystery. 

(Red Door Press, July 2021)

Genre: Mystery, Drama, Romance, Historical, Literature

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Book Review

Last year I had the great pleasure of reading Alison Booth’s The Philosopher’s Daughters; thought-provoking historical fiction in a writing style I found captivating. For this reason, I was already inclined to read whatever she published next. That her latest release couples an art mystery with an exploration of the migrant experience, both topics I am particularly drawn to, was just an added bonus.

From the opening lines of The Painting readers are treated to Booth’s trademark evocative literary style:

Aunt Tabilla was banging about downstairs, rattling crockery and crashing saucepan lids like cymbals, an early morning concerto that only Anika could hear.

Booth has a real knack of drawing out the musicality of the everyday and bringing an artist’s eye to the most mundane aspects of urban living.

The open back door framed the view of a narrow brick path leading to the disused outhouse. Beyond the paling fence at the end of the yard, terraced houses stepped down the hill, like rows of dominoes waiting to be knocked down.

This perspective is not simply appealing to read. With it, Booth cultivates historical tension and narrative suspense and offers readers emotional insight to her characters, e.g. protagonist Anika, a student of architecture, and the various political regimes that had shaped their lives.

Dramatic mystery

The painting and its theft, the initial focal point, serves merely as a catalyst for Anika’s investigation into mysteries more personal and far greater reaching than originally foreseen. This novel’s execution was perhaps not as taut as I would have liked it in places. But, as a daughter of a migrant I felt a real empathy towards Anika’s plight and the sacrifices made by generations before her. I found her inner turmoil as she straddles her old world and her new life compelling.

The loneliness she suddenly felt was more than the familiar little ripple of isolation that sometimes washed around her. Rather, it was like a large wave that could crash down on her in the shallows. Her family was too far away. She’d give anything to go home for a visit.

Alison Booth’s The Painting is a simple storyline perceptively explored. It is more drama than crime mystery, but drama born from scars that run deep and a conclusion that satisfies on many levels.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of The Painting from:

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More The Painting Reviews

‘A compelling and incisive portrait of Anika – a wise and wary exile from an oppressive regime – as she struggles to regain her trust in humanity.’ – Michelle Wildgen

‘Deceptively simple, deeply human, The Painting lights the shadows of dispossession in Hungarian immigrant lives in Australia through art and romance, meat and menace, totalitarianism, provenance and pest.’- Tom Flood

‘Booth weaves a nicely taut thread of suspense through her novel, pleasingly resolved at the end. Altogether a smart, absorbing piece of summer reading with a cast of perceptively drawn characters.’ – A Life in Books

About the Author, Alison Booth

Alison Booth was born in Melbourne, brought up in Sydney and has worked in the UK and in Australia as a professor as well as a novelist. Alison’s work has been translated into French and has also been published by Reader’s Digest Select Editions in both Asia and Europe. Alison, who holds a PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics, is an active public speaker and has participated in many writers’ festivals and literary events.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2021 and the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.