Seven portraits of women reading, seven stories imagined by the author, Katie Ward, about the history of each painting. This brief, beautiful book captures the universal emotions of women throughout history, at all different stages in their lives, all centered around that one activity which many of us love above all others. The stories range in date from the fourteenth century to the imagined future, where the author cleverly ties together all of the paintings and their stories. Each chapter, focused on the imagined history of one painting, is a kind of short story, and can easily stand alone as well as part of the wider collection that is concluded to some degree at the end.
The writing in this book is beautiful and I just adored the way it was structured. I had a good look at the source behind each of the stories – both the real paintings and the inspirations for those which don’t exist or are conglomerates – and thoroughly enjoyed the connections and the differences in style as the novel progressed. Each chapter does feel like its own little story, with its own world and characters. The ending ties them up neatly, but so does the universal female emotion that pervades each. For me, each story highlighted how much we all exist in our own worlds, but how we are all tied together by our very existence. For example, in one of the stories, a teenage girl obsesses over an older painter, imagining herself in love, her feelings so reminiscent of my own immature years that I was completely taken aback. In another, a mourning aristocratic lady asks her artist friend to finish a painting of her female lover, who has recently passed on, and the grief and the emotion contained within just that one story was incredibly moving.
Several reviews of this book have highlighted the fact that it doesn’t contain quotes for speech, and that this makes it difficult to follow; I did not have this problem at all, and I actually enjoyed the flow of the writing. It’s worth noting, though, if that is something about a book that will bother you, but I didn’t even think of it as a complaint until I’d looked at other reviews. All of it was breathtaking, I thought, and Ward’s narrative voice was gorgeous enough to keep me pinned to the pages. It’s as though Ward gave me a window into the minds of the women in each of the paintings, and those thoughts were simply stunning.
I really can’t praise this book enough – Girl Reading is perfect for women who love to read, who love history, who are looking for a book that reminds them of our experiences throughout history. Very, very highly recommended.
I received this book for free for review.