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Portrait of an Unknown Woman


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/ Published to tie-in with a major Holbein exhibition at the Tate Gallery, which will run from September 06 to January 07 / Holbein in England will exhibit Holbein's work from when Thomas More was his patron -- it is the first major exhibition of these paintings for more than 50 years and will generate enormous interest in and coverage of Holbein / From the publishers of Tracy Chevalier, Vanora Bennett will appeal to all fans of quality historical fiction / This is a debut novel from a remarkable new talent in historical fiction / Competition: Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters

About the Author

Vanora Bennett has written two previous non-fiction books. She has been a foreign correspondent and feature writer for various newspapers. She lives in London with her husband and two young sons.


In 1527, portraitist Hans Holbein fled a Europe ravaged by religious ferment and journeyed to Henry VIII's England under commission to Sir Thomas More to paint a family portrait. Journalist Bennett has written a novel as oblique and layered as a Holbein painting, brilliantly depicting this turbulent time in English history through the eyes of More's adopted daughter, Meg Giggs, who becomes physically attracted to Hans despite romantic links to her former tutor, John Clement, who himself becomes a medical doctor and hides a mysterious-even royal-past. John is attracted to Meg, admiring her inquisitive mind and interest in herbal medicine, and knows they can make a successful, quiet life together. Meg must come to terms with the secrets of her adoptive father, her feelings for Hans, her suspicions of her sister, Elizabeth, and her longing for happiness in a world bubbling with the beginnings of religious strife. Award-winning narrator Josephine Bailey brings a rich, husky voice suggestive of smoke and chocolate to the reading of this book, which is further enhanced by her ability with accents such as the heavy German of Hans. She modifies her own voice in dramatizations of many characters, including the slightly shrill, nasal voices of several children and of the somewhat smug voice of Elizabeth. Recommended for libraries with historical fiction collections.-David Faucheux, Louisiana Audio Information & Reading Svc., Lafayette Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Praise for 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman': 'Bennett's background detail is impeccable - part love story, part thriller, all excellently imagined and written.' The Times 'There is plenty to admire and enjoy in Bennett's portrayal of a society convulsed by radical change!Vanora Bennett is a writer to watch.' Times Literary Supplement 'There is much to admire in this curate's egg of a novel.' Sunday Telegraph 'An enjoyable read.' Guardian 'Distinguished!Romance, intrigue and art history are confidently blended, and Holbein canvases are afforded starring roles.' Daily Mail 'Rich in period detail, full of human passion, 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman' mingles art, politics and family drama to evoke the period when humanism was taking root in England. A fascinating tale, skilfully told and highly recommended.' Iain Pears, author of 'The Portrait' 'If only history was taught by people like Vanora Bennett!I loved this book.' Penny Smith, First magazine 'An atmospheric, passionate novel set against a backdrop of religious and political upheaval.' Woman and Home More praise for 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman': 'Fans of Tracy Chevalier and Philippa Gregory will lap up this meticulously researched historical tale!A brilliant study of passion, politics, religion and art.' Eve magazine 'Fans of Girl with a Pearl Earring will greet this with open arms: it's a similarly intriguing, clever web of art, passion and historical characters!atmospheric and alive with philosophy and treachery - exhilarating.' Easy Living

British journalist Bennett (Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya) makes her fiction debut with a sweeping reinterpretation of Sir Thomas More's family as it coped with the vicissitudes of Henry VIII's reign. Narrated by More's brilliant foster daughter, Meg Giggs, the narrative is framed by two paintings crafted five years apart by husky, ebullient German artist Hans Holbein; commissioned by the family, each was completed at radically different periods in the More clan's turbulent history. As the book opens, family tutor John Clement stimulates both Meg's apothecary interest and engages her in a love affair; she eventually marries him and bears him a son, though aware that Holbein also has romantic potential. As John, whose origins are shrouded in mystery, grows distant, Holbein returns to London to paint the More family again. Meanwhile, the Reformation bleeds across Europe, inciting religious upheaval, and Meg's staunch Catholic father continues to violently defend his faith against Protestant heretics. Duplicity involving Meg's flirtatious sister, Elizabeth, provides the novel's rousing climax. The vernacular doesn't quite hold, and the religious-political speechifying can be heavy-handed. But Bennett constructs lush backdrops and costumes, and has impeccable historical sense. She luminously shades in an ambiguous period with lavish strokes of humanity, unbridled passion and mystery. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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