Book review: The Portrait by Megan Chance

Published September 1st 1995 by Dell


The reigning master of the New York art world, Jonas Whitaker was brilliant and compelling, a man of dark passions and uncontrollable emotions. Terrified of his own dangerous nature and scarred by the horror of his past, he hid behind his talent in a world of glittering emptiness–until Imogene Carter pushed her way into his life.

He discounted her on sight, seeing her as a colorless, fragile woman with no spirit and less talent. He could send her running with a word–and he intended to do just that.

But Imogene was not so easily frightened. She came to Jonas to learn, and learn she would–everything he could teach her. She wanted his artist’s secrets and his brilliant passion. She wanted to be swept up in his seductive, forbidden world.

Until she saw the terrible price he paid for his talent.

And realized it was impossible to catch a shooting star without being burned…

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, staring at the wall, at the cracking plaster, the waterstain that looked like a giant feeding spider. “Nothing does. We all strive to say something—as if it’s important. As if there can be some lasting value . . . And yet we all know mankind is doomed to nothingness. Immortality.” He laughed bitterly. “There’s no such thing. There’s no meaning to anything. We get up in the morning, we push through the day, we go to sleep. Day after day. Endlessness. Meaninglessness.”

The Portrait is the most depressing book I’ve read in a while and still, I couldn’t tear myself from it until I soaked the story to the last word.

The Portrait is a story bordering on historical fiction and romance. In my opinion, it is closer to historical fiction. It tells us the sorry of a young woman Imogene, an inspiring young painter who comes to a very famous New York artist to teach her art. The premise seems like nothing special until you look behind the characters’ souls.

Imogene struggled her whole life to be as good as her sister Chloe. But Chloe died and now Imogene tries to fill the emptiness inside her heart and her parents’ by trying to be Chloe. She is seeking acceptance from her father, a very cold and cruel man who keeps beating her with words of lessness: less than Chloe, not as talented as Chloe, and so on. It’s no wonder Imogene learned to melt into shadows. But everything changes when she steps into the studio of the infamous Jonas Whitaker. She is suddenly thrown into the world of bohemian life and art and passion.

Imogene is one strong girl. Really, how many times she was told that she is nothing, a grey mouse? And still, she showed, again and again, her resolve and strength. I was really involved in the daughter-father conflict because basically the whole time Imogene tries to make her father proud.

They were the words she’d waited her entire life for, words of acceptance, of love, and Imogene knew this was finally her chance to hear them, her chance to be the daughter her father had always wanted, the daughter he’d lost when Chloe died. This time, she wouldn’t fail. Not this time.

Jonas is a different type altogether. He has bipolar disorder and in the 19th century, there was no way to be treated. He suffered terrible swings of mood, and because he is an artist on top, he is more perceptive to everything. I can’t express with words how hard it was to be in Jonas’s head – immensely hard. But I admire Megan Chance for showing in such detail how people like Jonas live and struggle with the illness every day when they do not know what normal looks like.

He wished he knew how they did it. Even planning for the next day was beyond his capabilities. He didn’t understand how to think that way, how to plan, and he wanted to. He wanted to understand how people mapped out their lives, how they went so easily through a day. How they managed to keep from destroying the people around them, destroying themselves. He looked down at his arm, at the too-smooth stump, the thick pink ridge of scar. Christ, how did they do it? How did Genie do it?

The Portrait is all about damaged people and art. New York at the end of the 19th century was the center of artists and poets. The book is filled with a bohemian vibe. We are inserted inside that world, we travel it with our characters. It was a delight to see how detailed Megan worked on bringing this world to us, readers. And sensuality. How can one be seduced by art? Oh, easily!

“Let me show you what I know of it,” he murmured. “Your mouth can be considered a hundred ways. Rico would look at it and he would see the light and shade; Byron Sawyer would see the color; yet another artist might see the line. A hundred truths, and not one is wrong. There are no original ideas, darling, only original visions. Each of us would draw your lips a different way, yet none of us could capture the complete essence of them.”

I am swooning! Though this book is also a romance it does not use it as a crutch. There’s no love healed or saved. Love teaches acceptance and humility but it does not deny the hardship that the characters encounter and will encounter in the future. That is why until the very end we do not know, not dare to hope for a happy ending.

Overall, Megan Chance is an author-revelation for me. I’ve never read her books before, but now I can’t seem to stop from adding more of her works to my shelf. She aims for the soul with her prose, a true artist. That is why you believe every word she creates on paper.

Highly recommended!

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