It is 1777, and England’s second-greatest portrait artist, Thomas Gainsborough, has a thriving practice a stone’s thrown from London’s royal palaces, while the press talks up his rivalry with Sir Joshua Reynolds, the pedantic theoretician who is the top dog of British portraiture.
Fonder of the low life than high society, Gainsborough loathes pandering to grand sitters, but he changes his tune when he is commissioned to paint King George III and his large family. In their final, most bitter competition, who will be chosen as court painter, Tom or Sir Joshua?
Meanwhile, two and a half centuries later, a badly damaged painting turns up on a downmarket antiques TV show being filmed in Suffolk. Could the monstrosity really be, as its eccentric owner claims, a Gainsborough? If so, who is the sitter? And why does he have donkey’s ears?
Mixing ancient and modern as he did in his acclaimed debut The Hopkins Conundrum, Simon Edge takes aim at fakery and pretension in this highly original celebration of one of our greatest artists.
So, what did I think?
I can’t stop myself from saying straight off that I love this book! It is funny, easy to read, interesting, a real page turner. The chapters slide from one character to another with absolute ease as we follow the tribulations facing an eighteenth century portrait artist, Thomas Gainsborough, his footman David, a modern day discovery and an antiques TV show as told from the viewpoint of Gemma, a member of the production team. Each chapter is given in turn to these central characters:
Thomas Gainsborough, a rival artist to Sir Joshua Reynolds, gives a great reflection on portraiture and the social circles of England in the eighteenth century;
David, writing home to his mother, offers a gentle insight to his role as a servant of the household and the realities of life during the period;
Gemma is a newly appointed member of the television show team, who finds herself tasked with delving further into a somewhat comical painting that has been passed down through generations of a family.
Throughout each chapter intrigue is built surrounding not only the life of Gainsborough and the discovery of his painting but also who it is of and the story around it. For a good few chapters most of the characters in the modern day know who it is, but readers do not. The third person narrative expertly builds depth and suspense.
The language is light and engaging and the characterisation is fantastic, at once you feel welcomed into each scene by very realistic and humorous prose and dialogue. In particular I found the behind the scenes discussion in the eighteenth century when the artist was working on portraits, and the behind the scenes discussion around the modern day television show very entertaining. It is nice to draw certain parallels between them too. The pace is great, absolutely spot on for keeping the reader engaged with its lively tempo, and the conclusions are superbly handled and very satisfying for the reader.
This is a book that you didn’t know you needed on your reading list – but you do!
Where can you buy a copy of ‘A Right Royal Face-Off’?
Readers can order the book from the Lightning Books website at 50% off (with free UK p&p) if you enter this code at checkout – BLOGTOURFACE
More about the author:
Simon Edge was born in Chester and read philosophy at Cambridge University.
He was editor of the pioneering London paper Capital Gay before becoming a gossip columnist on the Evening Standard and then a feature writer on the Daily Express, where he was also a theatre critic for many years.
He has an MA in Creative Writing from City University, London. His first novel, The Hopkins Conundrum, was longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award. He lives in Suffolk.
Read more about Simon and his work at www.simon-edge.com
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N.B. Thank you to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the book tour, and of course huge thanks to Simon Edge for gifting me a copy of his book for the purposes of this review. All thoughts are of course my own. For more information please see my disclosure page.