With a title like Botticelli’s Bastard, I had no idea what to expect from this latest novel by Stephen Maitland-Lewis . But as I began to get absorbed in it, it all began to take shape. The story begins when a middle-aged art restorer, who goes through the motions of living his life without experiencing any passion for it, opens up a crate that has been sitting in the corner of his art studio for years. Within it, he discovers an unsigned painted panel of an old Florentine aristocrat. Little did he realize how his life was about to change!
Now this is where the story got a little weird for me, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the rest of it….but the painting of the Count began to speak to Giovanni, the art restorer! And, of course, he was the only one that could hear the painting speak! They ended up conversing a great deal, and Giovanni found himself treating the Count like his confidante and best friend! Weird, right? But actually, these conversations opened up the floodgates of history. All the time periods between the Renaissance and modern times were described from the viewpoint of this painted Count who had “lived” through them all. It was all pretty fascinating, especially the description of the pillaging of art by the Nazis in Paris during World War II.
The Count also dropped a bombshell on Giovanni when he insisted that he had been painted by none other than Botticelli himself! Giovanni had his doubts, but promised the Count that he would have the painting analyzed by the experts for authentication.
Throughout all these conversations, Giovanni began to renew his passion for living – the Count counseled him about life in general and also gave him a mission to accomplish. Giovanni was ultimately faced with a moral dilemma and his character was put to the test.
This book is a perfect example of what true historical fiction is all about – learning about history in a way that is interesting and entertaining! I can highly recommend it, if you can get past the fantasy of the talking painting!
Below is a question and answer session with
How did you do research for your book?
The internet is my primary source for research, but one has to be very disciplined so as not to go off in tangents in reading material with is irrelevant to the topic in hand. For that reason, visits to local libraries are ideal, although more time consuming. With regard to Botticelli’s Bastard, the research covered many different periods of European history, which made the project enjoyable and it did not at any time feel onerous.
If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you
Unquestionably, Giovanni Fabrizzi, the art restorer. He was burdened with sadness and later on was faced with the dilemma of Satan on one shoulder and the good angel on the other in determining his course of action. But there is a moral tale for all of us and I found myself inspired by his ultimate decision.
3. What made you write a book about a talking painting?
A painting that has survived 500 years, has traveled across continents, and has hung on many different walls, has a life of its own. Just as Oscar Wilde’s
Dorian Grey had a painting that aged, my painting in Botticelli’s Bastard talks to the restorer. Just as a writer or an actor can get totally immersed in his character, so can a restorer working over a long period of time and in the minutest detail, become overtaken by the painting on which he is working.
4. What is the last great book you’ve read?
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron. This novel is superb on every level – character, plot, language, and overall style. I first read the book many years ago, at a time when I was not writing professionally, so I didn’t appreciate the subtlety and brilliance of Mr. Styron. Reading it again recently, I realized that the author was one of the major world’s literary geniuses. His writing is so fine that I have to resist the temptation of never writing another word.
Do you write every day?
I try to do so. Even if I am not writing a novel, I think it is important to write
something on a daily basis, whether it be a journal entry, or a complex social
or business letter. The great piano virtuoso Arturo Rubenstein remarked once
that “the first day I do not practice, I notice. The second day I miss a
practice, the critics notice. The third day – the audience notices.”
What advice would you give budding writers?
Treat the art of writing as a serious professional occupation, and not a recreational activity. Try not to read fiction whilst you are writing fiction, as you could fall into the trap of admiring a particular descriptive passage in something that you have read, and subconsciously repeating it in your own work. Read fiction before or after you have completed your book, not during your exercise.
What is your next project?
I have started a novel about a second-rate jazz pianist, and have already
completed about 20,000 words. In the midst of writing this, another project came into my mind and I may well place on hold the earlier one to focus on this latest possible work. I don’t want to say anything about the new project at present, so as not to jinx these very precious early stages.
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