I’ve just finished Katherine Reay’s latest book, A Portrait of Emily Price and I feel like a terrible person. For the record, I am not a terrible person – I give to charity, I pet dogs even though I am afraid of them, and I am pleasant to strangers even though I am afraid of them also. But when I compare myself to literally any of Katherine Reay’s characters, I am kind of a terrible person. And that is mostly because none of her characters ever even flirt with not saying or doing the right thing. They never even have inner monologues that resemble a three year old desperately in need of a nap, which I do on a semi-regular basis. I find this unrealistic. I prefer sharper, edgier writing but people love her books probably for this exact reason. I find the kind of reviews for her on Goodreads that compliment the author on not having used curse words, and I wonder again, am I a fucking terrible person to be annoyed by this, or am I delightful in every way? Unclear.
Emily Price is an art restorer – which is a really interesting occupation to give a character. I enjoyed the hell out of any technical descriptions of restoring art, because I know nothing about it and yet it was easy to imagine and understand. She has been sent to Atlanta on a job, where she immediately meets and falls in love with Ben, a chef in town briefly from Italy, because of course she does. They fall in love and are married within two weeks and she decides to just move to Italy with him, because apparently she has no life or opinion or reason not to follow a stranger to a strange land. I mean, what? It’s possible I am still dead inside but there was so little build up to us accepting that this is a normal thing for an American woman to do in 2016 that I could not get over it.
At least when they move to Italy … well, the story is in Italy. And I find myself not wanting to drown my Kindle in the bathtub again. They live with his family (something she could have found out about Italian men with a very simple Google search if she had done any investigation at all) in a town called Monterello, which is full of quirky characters and where literally nothing else happens for the rest of the book. It’s cute, it’s breezy, and it requires a level of belief suspension that I do not possess. If you read this for a fun escape, I am hoping you are not constantly asking yourself things like; Wait, did she call her mother? Wait, who packed up the apartment she never went back to? Wait, did she even turn off the damn gas and power? Wait, why is my OCD so terrible right now? What is happening here?
If you are looking for an escape without too much cursing in it, you could try two of her previous books, which I did enjoy – The Bronte Plot and Dear Mr. Knightly. The characters are still better humans than I am, but the stories were more involved and made more sense to me. Overall, good scenery and art details, not enough tension or action, and entirely too many nice people.
Grade – C+