The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

After her acclaimed success with her award-winning Hamnet, previously reviewed by Tomorrow’s Bookworm (and about to make its debut on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon), comes O’Farrell’s latest novel, The Marriage Portrait. 

Maggie O’Farrell, born in 1972 in Northern Ireland, is a contemporary British author who features as one of Waterstone’s top 25 authors of the future. Themes of sisterly relationships and loss, including the psychological outcomes of that loss, feature in her fiction. Her nonfiction work, I Am, I Am, I Am, is a memoir about her 17 brushes with death, which was also featured in Tomorrow.

Based on the true story which inspired Browning’s dramatic monologue My Last Duchess, The Marriage Portrait tells the powerful story of 16-year-old Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici. Her suspicious and untimely death was believed to be at the hands of her husband. As the lines from Browning’s monologue suggest, “ I gave commands/ Then all smiles stopped.”

O’Farrell brings the evocative world of Renaissance Italy to life in this fictional portrait of the young duchess, Lucrezia, as she finds her way through a troubled court. Although marriage was her destiny, death was her fate.

Forced into dynastic marriage in order to unite two powerful families – The House of Tuscany and The House of Ferrara – Lucrezia finds herself subject to the dominance of her husband Alonso, as she is compelled to bear an heir in order to secure the dynasty.

The opening chapter is written in the present tense which gives a sense of immediacy. In the winter of 1561, Lucrezia, now the young Duchess of Ferrara, finds herself on an unexpected visit to her husband’s country villa. His sinister intentions become clear to her as she suspects he will now kill her. Helpless and powerless, she finds herself in mortal danger.

O’Farrell’s gripping tale vividly portrays the beauty juxtaposed against the brutality of Renaissance Italy.

As cited by the Observer, “An extraordinary writer with a profound understanding of the most elemental human bonds.”

Hamnet review:

Am, I Am, I Am  review:


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