THE LAST PORTRAIT OF THE DUCHESS OF ALBA by Antonio Larreta

THE LAST PORTRAIT OF THE DUCHESS OF ALBA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A moderately droll historical murder mystery smothered in several layers of unnecessarily rich trimming, originally published in Spanish. Working up a now (too) familiar hermeneutic gag, Uruguayan novelist Larreta considers the fate of a tale sifted through several narrators and passed in manuscript form down to the present day, with several layers of amendments, additions, deletions. In 1802, the Duchess of Alba died suddenly, and the author imagines her one-time court consort and ally Godoy traveling to Bordeaux in 1825 to seek the exiled painter Goya--also a one-time lover of the Duchess--and solve the mystery. Goya believes that the Duchess was poisoned with a lethal blend of his own paints, recounts his own version of events leading up to the Duchess' death, and draws into the orbit of suspicion several contenders: the Queen of Spain. her son Don Fernando, and Godoy himself. Godoy passes on Goya's story in Godoy's memoir, begun in 1848, and, banking on information not available to Goya, draws his own conclusions--conclusions that are summarily discounted by a letter Godoy received after visiting Goya, and which is included in his memoir. And so on: Godoy's memoir turns up in the hands of a Marquis; the Marquis leaves the prize among the spoils jettisoned after a divorce; a modern-day stepson of the Marquis discovers the memoir and staples on his own commentary. There's a kernel of enchantment here, but getting there involves heavy slogging through purely mechanical narrative bog--letters, footnotes, police reports--not at all justified by the slim pickings.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1988
Publisher: Adler & Adler--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux