I really enjoyed Marina Fiorato’s last novel “The Double Life Of Kit Kavanagh” which was a vibrant account of an extraordinary gender-challenging woman who, away from the author’s fictional account of her life, became the first female Chelsea Pensioner in tribute to her distinguished military service. Here Marina Fiorato returns to purely imaginative historical fiction, taking her inspiration for her main character the young woman portrayed in John Everett Millais’ painting “The Bridesmaid”.
Fiorato recasts this woman as Annie Stride, a prostitute whom we encounter at the beginning about to recreate the recent suicide of her only friend by jumping off Waterloo Bridge. She is stopped by a passer-by, Francis Maybrick Gill, a Pre-Raphaelite artist who nutures Annie as his model and muse. There is a simmering tension throughout as Annie attempts to put her miserable past behind her whilst something is askew with her relationship with the artist.
The plot moves from Central London to Florence as Gill takes Annie with him for further inspiration. His main theme is the fallen woman throughout history and Annie finds herself his Mary Magdalene. There’s admittedly a slight dip in interest when the novel first moves to Italy but the author makes up for that with an excellently handled last third.
When I moved into my new house I was delighted to find a Camelia in the garden, but after this I’m not so sure as the flower here plays a slightly menacing role, becoming overly dominant in Annie’s new life, from its cloying smell to the artist’s obsession with Alexandre Dumas’ “La Dame Aux Camelias”.
Plot, characterisation and atmosphere are handled here so well that this book confirms Marina Fiorato’s reputation as a strong historical story-teller. She gets across the darkness and obsession present throughout the novel very well indeed and never overplays her hand, avoiding the melodrama it could so easily have become. Like the best historical fiction, the history is incorporated seamlessly creating a seductive yet chilling tale.
Crimson and Bone is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 18th May 2017. Many thanks to the publishers for the advance review copy.