The Last Painting of Sara de Vos (Dominic Smith, A&U)
It’s the late 1950s and a young Australian post-grad student, Ellie Shipley, agrees to make a copy of a little known work by the 17th-century Dutch painter Sara De Vos. Titled ‘At the Edge of the Wood’, it has been in the family of New York lawyer Marty De Groot for hundreds of years. Sara’s copy is almost perfect and in fact it’s months before Marty realises that his original has been replaced by a fake. Forty years later, Ellie Shipley is a professor of fine arts at Sydney University, and curator of an exhibition of Dutch female painters at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. One of the works she has selected for showing is ‘At the Edge of the Wood’. However, there’s a slight problem as the gallery has been offered two paintings and one of them has to be Ellie’s fake. With great skill, Smith weaves three interconnecting stories of Sara De Vos, the young Ellie and her final confrontation with her past in Sydney. While there are a few gaps in the story, it’s a wonderful narrative masterfully told and absolutely compelling. It will appeal to a wide range of readers, accessible yet complex in the manner of Geraldine Brooks or Anthony Doerr. I predict it will be one of the big books for 2016.
Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings