In this elegantly playful British debut, a self-loathing professor of fine art with an arch personal style narrates his quest for a missing Renaissance masterpiece.
Lowry’s accomplished novel mixes history, sex, psychology and art, funneled through the florid character of Irish-born Thomas Lynch, a tortured 50-year-old academic whose career at a Vermont college is cut short by homosexual misconduct. For the last decade Lynch has been obsessed with finding a lost Bellini Madonna mentioned in Dürer’s papers, which brings him to Mawle House, a neglected country manor in England where he believes it may be found. As Lynch combs the house for the picture and reads a Mawle ancestor’s Victorian diary for clues, he begins to find himself attracted to the owner’s daughter, Anna. What he does not realize is that his schemes and vanities have been predicted by diminutive fellow academic Ludovico Puppi and Anna’s mother, the widowed heir of Mawle. While Lynch’s lusts, ripe reflections and self-lacerating comments create a dense, overheated atmosphere, Lowry’s erudition and fastidiousness sometimes blot out the simple business of plot and pace. Despite its comic streak, the book’s ultimate mood is tragic—gaining what he seeks leads Lynch to transformation but also to a fatal clarity.
An ambitious, accomplished piece of work, part rococo amusement, part darker philosophical judgment.