You can tell this debut novel has been a labour of love. It is thoroughly researched, deftly handled and interestingly structured using some of the artist’s works as a way into his life and loves. At the beginning of the novel Rembrandt’s much loved wife Saskia dies of tuberculosis. His housekeeper Geertje is on hand to offer care for his young son, Titus, and before long a more physical support for Rembrandt. This arrangement changes, with long-standing legal ramifications when central character Hendrickje enters the household.
At first Hendrickje is enchanted by Rembrandt’s pupil, Samuel, a friendship which sparkles with romantic potential but the magnetism of the master cannot be ignored. Much of the tale is told by Hendrickje with occasional switches to a more detached omniscient narration. These switches did jar with me a little but I can see that, at times, it was important to distance ourselves slightly from events. The novel did have me regularly wanting to seek out Rembrandt’s artwork and helpfully the author’s website has links to the pictures referenced.
Rembrandt by Rembrandt
Rembrandt was an artist who produced many self-portraits in his lifetime holding up a mirror to his world. Was this because he was self-obsessed, a cheap and easy model or because they actually sold so well? This was a man of great allure whose genius allowed him to charm women, pacify creditors and this Devereux conveys this magnetism well, as an aspect of the genius of the artist. Personally, if I were Hendrickje I might have opted for the pupil, Samuel, but Rembrandt’s intensity, his frustrating personality and charm won out.
I very much enjoyed being immersed in Seventeenth Century Netherlands. The struggle for survival and the threats to health are excellently depicted. I think this novel would be a great reading group choice for an effective combination of art appreciation and very good quality fiction.
Rembrandt’s Mirror was published in hardback by Atlantic in 2015 and is now available in paperback (red cover) in June 2016. Rumour has it that an interview I carried out with Kim Devereux for newbooks magazine will be published in their summer issue (July 2016)