The Maid's Request, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


The Maid's Request tells the beautiful story of an enigmatic relationship between a 16th-century Italian painter and his servant.

At the behest of the French king the artist has journeyed from Italy to lead his school of students in the design and construction of a chateau in the Loire Valley. Despite the fact that master and servant seldom talk, each is acutely aware of the other's presence and routine. He gives her gifts of clothing and jewellery; she is sensitive to his every need. He imagines them dying together, envisaging her as lover, angel, Madonna. Finally she puts it to him, falteringly, one sleepless winter's night in the kitchen - she would like to continue to serve him after death by offering him her body to study. Then, on receiving news of her idiot son's death, she sets out to bury him, promising to return shortly. But the winter passes and she still hasn't returned. The artist develops a fever and, unable to draw, he waits ...


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9780571210114



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Once you get past the quite awful punctuation (a fault in the translator, one assumes, rather than the author), this really is a very beautiful little book. It is a simple story, possessed of the same quiet dignity as its two main protagonists – the maid and the elderly Leonardo Da Vinci. He is in France supervising the work of some of his pupils. Not a great deal happens. He helps his pupils, she cleans the house and prepares meals. Her son visits for a month, a donkey dies, she goes to her village for her son’s funeral. But mainly they spend their time in quiet contemplation of each other. Watching and waiting, both aware of age, its implications and their comparative closeness to the hereafter. Skillfully, Michele Desbordes draws you in, and builds up the tension by virtue of the anticipation of the maid’s request of the title. Yet, when it happens, it is unexpected and surprising. All of this is framed by wonderfully descriptive narrative, compellingly written. You will want to read this book again and again.

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