MASTERWORK by John Miglis

MASTERWORK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The actual 1975 knife-slashing of Rembrandt's The Night Watcher in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is the inspiration for this uneven novel--part psychostudy, part painting-restoration documentary, part contrived thriller. The slasher here is a second-rate artist from Rotterdam named van Rijks who's been unhinged by the death of his little son and separation from his wife--and Miglis does a solid, grim job of following poor van Rijks around Amsterdam: stealing a knife from his seedy hotel; getting thrown out of a brothel and a church; consorting with a slimy pimp-pusher; struggling with police when he's separated from his precious folio of drawings during the Queen's Birthday street celebration. And soon enough van Rijks winds up at the museum, where he imagines that the figures in The Night Watch are reaching out, blaming him for his son's death: thus, the savage vandalism. Focus then shifts to the museum's restless, bored master-restorer, Pieter Beckum--who's eager to tackle this tough new challenge, ambivalent about his affair with much-younger-and-freer apprentice Demmie, fierce in his opposition when the Town Council tries to turn the restoration into a nonstop ""media event."" But Pieter's concentration becomes thoroughly undermined by one of the spectators--a weirdly staring man--who come to view the restoration; Pieter even follows him; and when it's revealed that van Rijks (supposedly in psychiatric custody) has in fact escaped, it's clear that this spectator is van Rijks. From there on, unfortunately, the book is sheer comic-book melodrama: van Rijks kidnaps Demmie; Pieter rescues her and stabs van Rijks; wounded van Rijks escapes and nearly kills the Queen (he's foiled by Pieter, of course) at the restoration's unveiling. And throughout the novel, Pieter's broodings on romance, art, and such (""He and the madman were catalysts for the continuation of art"") are wanly pretentious filler. Still, those opening van Rijks chapters are properly depressing, and the restoration detail is neatly described--so art-maven readers may be willing to overlook the rough or tacky spots on this rather motley canvas.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Lippincott & Crowell