The Artist’s Secret – Alexandra Joel | Book Review | #TheArtistsSecret | @Harper360UK @RandomTTours

The sweeping new saga of strong heroines and family secrets from the bestselling author of The Paris Model.

A missing girl, a hidden masterpiece, and the search for the truth.

1965: After escaping from anti-war turmoil and the suffocating weight of family expectations, a beautiful young couple embrace a life free of materialism and tradition by a sapphire lake in Italy. But the past does not always let go so easily …

1987: When talented art historian Wren Summers lands her dream job at the Sydney Art Museum, it seems she can finally leave her wildly unconventional background behind – until a treacherous act threatens everything she has strived for.

The revelation of a monstrous family secret sees Wren head to New York, compelled to find the missing girl who holds the key to this shocking mystery – and to make a fresh start in the glittering realm of international art auctions. As she struggles to fulfil her quest, can she navigate this new, high-stakes world of swirling temptation, romance and deceit, danger and betrayal, while staying true to what she knows is right?


My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite and to the publisher for the copy of The Artist’s Secret to review. I simply can’t say no to an Alexandra Joel book, having reviewed and so enjoyed the previous two last year The Royal Correspondent and The Paris Model. All three books are standalones, having timelines ranging from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s.

The Artist’s Secret with its two timelines – the main part set in the the 1980’s, travels from Australia to New York, taking in Rome and Venice along the way. The story begins in 1965 with US anti-Vietnam war student demonstrations which leads to an Australian commune. This lifestyle is not for everyone and young Wren Summers longs to travel and make a life for herself even if it means leaving her mother Lily, a rather fragile but talented artist. Wren tries to hide her background and her determination and talent as an art historian lead her to the most prestigious galleries and auction houses. However this is far from a smooth ride, she encounters discrimination and the most predatory and manipulative of individuals in her quest to become successful in an industry dominated by men.

There was so much here to enjoy and I was fascinated by this glance into the art world. Like Wren I had my eyes opened to the business of auction houses, the difficulty in detecting forgeries and the sourcing of the best items. From scouring the obituary columns and smooching the rich and the bankrupt, all avenues are open in the search for that most valuable of prizes.

This isn’t just a book about art and the behind the scenes shenanigans though. The story has as a central theme of needing a sense of belonging with further substance provided by betrayal, intrigue and drama in the search for a missing girl. The story certainly pulls at the heartstrings with both its emotional and romantic threads.

The Artist’s Secret is another captivating and meticulously researched story from a writer who has rapidly placed herself on my list of favourite authors. Locations are vividly described and there is such a range of diverse characters. Wren was fabulous – compassionate and determined whilst there are others who prefer the darker side of life and whose behaviour was indefensible.

Finally, there is a detailed author’s note at the back which explains the background to the book and the true events and people which inspired it. I always find these insightful and informative and do enjoy reading them.

And, just because it is a lovely painting and is mentioned in the book, I have included this picture of “Two Young Girls at the Piano” by Auguste Renoir (1892).

Alexandra Joel is a former editor of the Australian edition of Harper’s Bazaar and of Portfolio, Australia’s first magazine for working women. She has also contributed feature articles, interviews and reviews to many national and metropolitan publications.

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