A young woman digs into her mysterious co-worker’s past while learning the craft of art restoration.
Fresh out of graduate school, Mackenzie Ferrara snags a prestigious job in the objects conservation department at the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City devoted to relics of the medieval era. There, she will restore masterpiece paintings to their original glory, a skill to be honed under the tutelage of Anthony Bataglia, an expert restorer who is a phenomenal painter in his own right, and handsome to boot. Though he looks to be in his 30s, Anthony is an old soul who favors solitude over the “the ever-flowing stream of transient nonsense that [makes] up the vast majority of people’s lives.” As the two work together on classics like Berlinghiero Berlinghieri’s Madonna and Child, Mackenzie grows increasingly fascinated by her new co-worker—especially when she discovers that his signature bears a striking resemblance to that of the master painters whose works they’re refurbishing. Is Anthony a forger? She voices her suspicions to her father, a retired detective who calls in a favor and discovers that Anthony is sitting on a billion-dollar fortune—and he’s supposedly 60-something. The truth about Anthony unravels gradually, ultimately with a shocking twist, in O’Connell’s debut novel. Interspersed among scenes set in modern-day New York City are those set in pre-Renaissance Italy told from the perspectives of the painters on whose pieces Mackenzie and Anthony are working. O’Connell not only details the artists’ methods and motivations, but thoroughly describes the artworks, restoration process, and painting techniques. Some readers may roll their eyes at the coincidences (for example, Mackenzie and Anthony may be distant relatives) and raise eyebrows at the oddball conclusion.
Pretty absurd in the end but a fun novel that art history buffs will enjoy.