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Portrait of Mrs.Charbuque [Paperback]

4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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First Sentence
MUCH TO my unease, Mrs. Reed positioned herself, all evening, beneath or immediately to either side of her new portrait. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fortune's End Jan. 4 2008
By Dave and Joe TOP 100 REVIEWER
The delightful Mrs. Charbuque captures not only the artist commissioned to paint her - unseen - but also we readers as well. The premise of the book struck me right away as incredibly clever. You already know that the book is about an artist challenged to paint a portrait of a woman who he is not allowed to see, he is allowed to talk to her and ask her questions about her life, and from her answers he is to find inspiration to do his painting. I admit I had a firm picture of her in my head by the time brush was put to canvas. The stories she tells in response to questions are just on the edge of bizarre but compelling enough for a picture of the 'woman' to rise from the words. Well done, Mr. Ford, thanks for a great read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Little Mystery and a Trip Back in Time April 26 2004
I bought "The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque" not knowing quite what to expect, but was quickly captivated by both its premise and its style. I'm not frequently a reader of mystery novels, nor do I read historical fiction very often. I've delved into Dan Brown, Caleb Carr, and Mark Frost--and in all cases I've ultimately come away disappointed. When reading these books I'd felt either that the author thought I was stupid or that he thought his characters were stupid.
Here Ford treats both his readers and his creations with respect. His plot does not rely on amazing coincidence or amazing ineptitude to propel it along; nor does he treat his novel as an opportunity to impress the reader with his research on 19th century New York City or the art of portraiture. Instead, both provide a rich, but not overwrought, backdrop for a satisfying nugget of mystery.
If you're looking for the next great American novel, this is not it. However, if you are looking for a little guilt-free escapist fun that is more substantive than most of what populates the best-seller list, then "The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque" is well worth your time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book! Nov. 16 2003
By A Customer
The style of Mr. Ford's writing and the intriguing story he tells make this book an absolute pleasure to read. Although the ending was no on par with the rest of the book, I still gave this book five stars because it is so enjoyable to read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ford is quite clever! July 12 2003
This book has a nifty idea, and well imagined setting, excellent characters (I especially liked the hero's girlfriend and his opium addicted painting pal - Ford portrays them as realistic, but sympathetic and intrigueing) and a plot full of menace and mystery. What a great idea - ask a portraitist to paint the face of a woman he can never see. I don't want to give anything away - read this book, and I like the Physnigomy series even better.
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3.0 out of 5 stars 2/3 of a good book June 6 2003
This is almost an amazing book.
The concept is intriguing, and through most of it just the enigma of Mrs. Charbuque kept me reading. I felt that the "subplot" (the mysterious disease that causes ppl to bleed from the eyes) was too sporadic and hamhandedly dealt with, and i felt the entire ending to be a bit of a tidied-up cop-out. I wish that the author had taken another 50-100 pages to flesh out the mystery-disease subplot and to wind up the story in a way that didn't feel so slam-bang. For something that purported to challenge gender and identity, it felt a bit rote.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story, even better prose... May 16 2003
By z
Ford's genre-defying work continues in this novel, a wonderful read that I'd recommend to practically anyone with an interest in reading something non-formulaic. It's part mystery, part speculative fiction, part period piece, and it's all written with classical style and elegance. If I hadn't read Ford's earlier works, I don't know if I'd have bought this book - in fact, I doubt it. My reading tastes really aren't that diverse. But being such a huge fan of the prior books, I had to give it a shot.
Ford paints scenes as vivid as any working writer today with very spare words - a rare gift. Not a sentence seems wasted in reading Ford's work, and the same holds true here. Not even a chapter disappoints. No matter which genre attracts you, try this book - you will enjoy it immensely. It'd make for a excellent film, too, in the right hands.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing May 12 2003
By A Customer
I thought it was an intriguing premise from the start. I, too, was trying to draw in my mind what Mrs. Charbuque would look like. It is very entertaining and worth the read.
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Jeffrey Ford's new novel is The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, something of a departure from his previous novels, though it does share some of the same obsessions and tropes, and of course it features Ford's easily recognizable prose, lush and at times overheated, but enjoyable and effective for the most part. But his earlier novels were set in exotic fantasy landscapes -- this book is set in turn of the 20th Century New York -- though Ford makes it seem exotic enough!
Mrs. Charbuque is a mysterious woman who engages the services of the novel's narrator, Piero Piambo, a portrait painter who wishes he could be something better. Mrs. Charbuque offers to pay him enough money to allow him to pursue his dream, but on one condition: he must attempt to paint her without ever seeing her. Much of the novel is given to Mrs. Charbuque's stories of her strange life: a father who predicted the future by reading snowflakes, an unfaithful mother, her later life telling fortunes, and her unusual relationship with her husband, who is allowed to see her no more than any other person. Piambo's struggles to paint his mysterious patron are complicated by the growing jealousy of both his lover, and of the apparently estranged Mr. Charbuque. At the same time his old friend Shenz, another portrait painter, offers to track down clues to Mrs. Charbuque's identity. And finally a mysterious plague is infesting New York: women are found bleeding to death through their eyes.
The resolution is striking and oddly pulpish. The novel is great fun, mixing outlandish mysteries with sensitive philosophical speculation, and garish adventure with concerns about the character of the artist. These perhaps disparate elements in the end work together quite well: this is a quite satisfying book.
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