Girl Reading, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


An orphan poses nervously for a Renaissance maestro in medieval Siena, and an artist's servant girl in seventeenth-century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in tales of knights and battles.

A woman reading in a Shoreditch bar catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture, and a Victorian medium holds a book that she barely acknowledges while she waits for the exposure.


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Girl Reading by Katie WardThe Blurb on the back tells us: An Orphan poses nervously for a Renaissance maestro in Medieval Siena, and an artist servant girl in 17th century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in tales of knights and battles. In a Victorian photography studio, a woman holds a book that she barely acknowledges while she waits for the exposure and in Shoreditch bar in 2008 a woman reading catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture. What is perhaps not apparent is that this book is a collection of short stories; all have a woman at the centre, and man somewhere and emotion everywhere. Viv Groskop, The Times states this book “has a real beating heart”, and I would agree with that statement. The book as a piece of literature is brilliant. I could really have got an essay out of this for so many courses in the past and I am confident some course lecturer will pick this as content for one of their books. It’s brilliantly written and the change in voices could be compared to David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) without a doubt. Any women’s reading group that chose this book would not be disappointed and they would run over time in their discussions. It is somewhat more intellectual than your average bestseller and therefore if you are after something a bit more stimulating to read this would make an excellent choice, curled up in the beanbag, in front of the fire whilst it is pouring down with rain. The Commuting Bookworm 08/08/12

Review by

Borrowed from the local library on a whim as the critical reviews were very positive, plus, being a reading girl, I felt I could identify with the subject.This book is in an unusual format: not quite a novel, but a series of seven very loosely connected stories. They begin in the 1300s and from there each one jumps forward a century or so. Each one has as its focal point an image of a woman or girl with a book. (Most of them are based on actual paintings or photos, and fun to look up.) The stories explore the characters in and around this image: how did the painting or photograph come to be? That's it, really: sort of a simple premise but a nifty work of imagination that allows for plenty of variety. There's an orphan girl living on charity, a deaf housemaid and her fraught relationship with the family she serves, a countess grieving her dead lover, a spirit medium and her twin, a self-absorbed lovestruck teenager, a young career woman at a crossroads, and even an art historian/programme designer of the future, with a sci-fi twist. Occasionally one of the pictures from the past will crop up in a story as a character looks through old visiting cards or sees a portrait on a wall, but that's about it.I like the premise of [Girl Reading] but feel like the stories varied in quality. The first couple didn't really grab me and didn't particularly have any closure for the characters, either, which was annoying. The third, 'Portrait of a Lady,' was much better (I'm a sucker for a good lesbian love story), and I liked the touch of the supernatural in 'Carte de Visite.' 'For Pleasure' was satirical and funny and reminded me a bit of Dodie Smith, although it wasn't nearly as kind and forgiving of its characters' flaws! Unfortunately the book ended on a rather weird note with 'Sibil,' a story which seemed to go in two directions at once. There was an element of psychological drama in it, crumbling relationship, etc., but then also the Sibil of the title: a computer programme which constructs a virtual reality world around a painting or photograph. The catch? It only works with six images (no points for guessing which ones). It seems like a very bizarre way to tie the preceding vignettes together, especially as it doesn't really have any bearing on the main conflict of the story.Altogether not a bad book, but I wasn't blown away by it.