In a calm, smooth Australian accent, actress Julie Nihill takes the listener straight into a diary entry recording a meeting with a man "on the right side of unique". Soon, Nihill will flip the lights and reveal the larger scene: a hilltop community in Italy where Greer Gordon, expat, lives with her lover, a Czech artist named Mischa Svoboda, a man for whom she severed all her contacts - including her husband - 25 years ago.
Virginia Duigan specializes in novels written in the minor key, complete with lush details, remote settings, and mysterious human hearts. Thankfully, she strings the listener along with plot twists. Performer Nihill does a serviceable job, though non-Aussie accents are not her specialty.
When Greer Gordon met Mischa Svoboda, a driven Czech-born refugee painter, he was unknown. His debut at the small art gallery where she worked created a sensation, and their explosive love affair caused Greer to abandon her husband and career and embark on a nomadic life with Mischa.
Twenty-five years later, Tony, a young art critic who is researching a biography of Mischa, arrives in the small Italian hilltop community where Greer and Mischa now live. Greer is consumed by anxiety, fearing the biographer may have unearthed the secret she had always intended to write out of her life story.
A gripping cat-and-mouse game plays out, and with it the growing suspicion that Tony may be manipulating a dramatic outcome on which to build his career. Beautifully narrated, Virginia Duigan's intimate and enthralling portrait of the relationship between an artist and his lover will have listeners examining how their own biographies might be written, for who amongst us truly has nothing to hide?
Virginia Duigan's lovely prose and vivid expression carried me through the lives of this small group of old school creatives for whom art means obsession and self-focus and love means all or nothing. Her scheming characters left me feeling little joy, but I was drawn into their world by Duigan's skilful handling of the story as it unfolds. The central theme - of the biographer as both an observer and alchemist in the lives of those he or she portrays --is a fascinating one. The end was a satisfying one, but I wanted to like these troubled, intense group of artists much more than I did.