Archive for the Category ◊ Book Reviews ◊

• Friday, March 20th, 2020

Javier Sierra was born in 1971 in Teruel, Aragon, Spain. Since his childhood, Sierra was interested in the world of communications. After his school education, he studied journalism at the Complutense University of Madrid and worked for the radio, television and the press. His first book was published in 1995.

He has written fiction and non-fiction books. The Master Of The Prado, his sixth, was published in Spanish in 2013 and English in 2015. Sierra became an acclaimed writer, his books have been published in several countries and he has won awards for some of his work. He currently lives in Madrid with his wife and two children.

The story of The Master Of The Prado starts in 1990 in Madrid with Javier Sierra standing in the Gallery “A” of the famous Prado Museum in the capital, admiring the painting of the Renaissance artist, Raphael, the Holy family, known as The Pearl. An enigmatic, tastefully dressed gentleman appears at Sierra’s side and introduces himself as Dr Luis Fovel. Noticing Sierra’s state of surprise, Fovel quotes the ancient Eastern proverb, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”, which sums up succinctly the subject of the story.

Javier Sierra, a provincial nineteen-year-old journalism student and part-time worker at Scientific Discovery, a monthly magazine, is initiated by his mentor, Luis Fovel, who takes him for a journey of five unexpected encounters in the Museum’s galleries. Both of them will marvel at the various masterpieces painted by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli, Titian, Brueghel, El Greco and other famous European painters. Fovel tries to stimulate Sierra’s intellect by encouraging him to decipher the astonishing secret messages hidden in these various works of art.

When Sierra fails at his task, Fovel enlightens him by disclosing incredible esoteric information and points out various details which would be impossible to detect by the average person – alluding to the ambiguous codes purposely included by the artist in his painting. Fovel’s explanations and analysis of the clandestine religious sects, supernatural beliefs, heresies, schemes and zealotries of remote times are all based on his own historical knowledge.

All these intriguing revelations described by Fovel, give Sierra food for thought as well as transport him to olden times. It certainly makes him look at the ancient paintings through different eyes. The story is written by the author like an autobiographical fiction.

Sierra takes upon himself the task of untangling reality from fantasy by following his fact-finding pursuit. Nevertheless, in his impetuous endeavour, he goes against his girlfriend Marina’s warning and better judgement, putting both of them in danger.

The Master Of The Prado has a gripping plot. It is elaborately described and richly footnoted like a textbook. The novel has beautifully coloured illustrations, fitting for a museum guide book of some of the famous paintings mentioned by the author and which are placed comfortably in the right spot for the reader to examine while reading about them.

It is a book for art historians as well as lovers of classical paintings of the great masters of the Renaissance period. The notes, index and list of The Prado owned paintings mentioned at the end of the book will be useful for art enthusiasts who might like to pursue their research on the subject further.

In one of his interviews, Javier Sierra says about his book: (It is) “A sort of fictionalized biography. I wrote it from a very real experience of encountering an old and wise man in the Prado Museum in the early 90’s. We had a very revealing conversation and from my memories of it, I developed a character which is a sort of ‘spirit guide’ of the Museum, who knows all about the ‘biographies’ of the paintings (…) Regarding Marina, she is a real person, but I have never met her again since the time of the plot line. She just vanished from my life”.Sierra went on by saying: “I have always been interested in the ‘other side’ of reality”. Those words reveal it all.

• Sunday, March 01st, 2020

Ella Griffin was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. When twenty-one, she quitted college and went to Holland, where she worked in a Kodak factory, followed by advertising at the age of twenty- three. Griffin won an award as an advertising copywriter before deciding to become a novelist. Since 2011 she has written four novels. The Memory Shop, her fourth novel, was published in 2017.

Ella Griffin says: “I started travel writing in my thirties. Then, when I was forty, I went to Greece on a writing course and came home with the love of my life and an idea for my first novel”. She presently lives with her husband in County Wicklow in Ireland.

The Irish, Nora Malone, the main character of The Memory Shop, is a young design artist living in London. Nora is on her way to Blackrock in Dublin for the reading of her grandmother Lainey’s will and also to collect some items from Temple Terrace – her late grandparents’ home – before it is cleared and sold. While heading towards Heathrow Airport, she discovers that she has forgotten the keys to her grandparents’ home on the hall table of her house in Fountain Road, London.

When Nora arrives home unexpectedly, she discovers her husband of two years in bed with a woman and soon after she discovers by coincidence that it is Liv, her colleague and best-trusted friend.

Under the shock, Nora decides to quit everything in London and stay in her grandparents’ home in Dublin where she grew up. But, reluctant to auction her grandparents’ belongings to strangers, she chooses to open The Memory Shop by using the vacant premises attached to the house. She decides to sell all the contents of the house to people who will appreciate them as well as put them to good use by matching up the appropriate person with a suitable item.

The reader is introduced to new characters who come to the shop, attracted by specific objects. There is Lia, the unsettled, worried mistress who fell in love with the freshwater pearl earrings and buys them. Caroline, the unhappy wife and the hand-knotted, silk Moroccan prayer rug, “the rug had been admired by dozens of people (…), but nobody loved it the way Caroline did”. And the boy Christopher, whose face lit up with excitement when he saw through Nora’s shop window the two hundred and forty million-year-old ammonite fossil marble table and pleaded with his father to buy it for him as a birthday present.

After redecorating the place and attracting buyers with her beautiful and original thematic window displays, changing every few days, gradually each object finds a happy owner and a new life. Because, with a new buyer, the items will start different, fresh, memorable stories.

Through clearing and dealing with each item of her grandparents’ memorabilia, letters and handwritten notes of her grandmother with a heavy heart, Nora unravels joyous, sad and secret old stories as well as memories of her childhood. She also unwinds interesting concealed secrets of her grandmother’s mysterious past.

In the seaside town of Blackrock, a suburb near Dublin, where Nora now lives, she has made new friends. Like the all-round helper, Fiona, the owner of the local café and her cook, Adonis, the widower, Will and his daughter Alice, and several other characters, each one of them with his or her own story.

The Memory Shop vividly describes items, surroundings and feelings. It portrays gripping characters, all with their stories intertwined with Nora’s shop. It is a heart-warming novel about love, deception, family bonds, community friendship and nostalgia.

It underlines how it is essential to pick oneself up and have the self-confidence to overcome life’s inflicted wounds and to be set free from the past, looking forward to building a better future.