Summary and book reviews of The Bellini Madonna by Elizabeth Lowry

The Bellini Madonna

A Novel

By Elizabeth Lowry

The Bellini Madonna
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2009,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: May 2010,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Thomas Lynch was once a brilliant young art historian. Now he is a disgraced, middle-aged art historian, overly fond of the bottle and of his fresh young students.

But everything will change now that he’s on the trail of a lost masterpiece, a legendary Madonna by the Italian master Giovanni Bellini. Insinuating himself into the crumbling English manor house where the painting may be concealed, Lynch attempts to gull the eccentric and perversely beautiful women who live there — though he himself seems to be the pawn in this elaborate game. A Victorian diary that draws Robert Browning into the painting’s complicated provenance might provide the key—if only Lynch can manage to beat his hosts in the search.

In the end, it will be Lynch’s own vulnerable heart that betrays the betrayer. Interlaced with complex clues and hidden jokes, The Bellini Madonna reels from the lush English countryside to the sternly lovely hill towns of the Veneto, from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first. It is a spectacularly original debut.

One

I met Anna Roper last month while I was trying to rob her at her home, in the village of Mawle in Berkshire.

I write this. I write this to explain — no, that is not the beginning. Let me start again. I write this out of an overwhelming need to confess, to record, and, just possibly, to apologize. There. I have set down the first few strokes of the pattern. To apologize to whom? To Anna? To myself, for making such a hopeless hash of everything? Or to the universe? I feel that it somehow deserves my most abject assurances of regret. I know that running away to Asolo now, at the end of this terrible summer, was a mistake. The stones of the buildings are still as ripe with sun as honeycombs, fat and warm with false promise. The Italian sun itself rises each day as though nothing has happened, awful in its innocence. Only the noonday shutters avert their faces, as if in sorrow or in shame. So this is what has become of my life’s ambition—

There was a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about The Bellini Madonna are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Bellini Madonna.

Discussion Questions

  1. Lowry's essay "The Visitable Past" outlines the ways in which the relationship between Anna and Lynch is similar to that of the duke and duchess of Browning's "My Last Duchess." In addition to the list of ways that Anna is similar to the Duchess, can you think of any ways in which she is different? Does ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Elizabeth Lowry’s Thomas Joseph Lynch can hold his own among the best fictional characters. In the end we do like Lynch but abhor certain aspects of his character. He may not be trustworthy but he is a hell of a storyteller and Lowry's elegant-on-steroids prose (Oxford English Dictionary editor, indeed) does as much to elevate Lynch to best-fictional-character status as do his actions. Crackpot or not (you decide) we would have Thomas Joseph Lynch over for dinner but likely count the silver afterward.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews
The Spectator (UK)

This is a curious book: not exactly likeable, but certainly intriguing, and definitely accomplished. It is a debut novel, but doesn’t feel like one at all. It is smart, bold and surprising, with nothing of the crowd-pleaser about it; in fact it might irritate, or disgust, just as easily as it amuses.

The Guardian (UK)

A mystery story, a love story and a comedy of errors set in that most familiar of locations - a ruinous country house ... a compelling debut that entertains and unsettles in equal measure.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Fusing the techniques of the thriller writer with those of historical fiction, Lowry . . . invokes an authentically Bellinian sense of distantly exact perspectives to create a first novel of genuine subtlety and distinction.

The Independent (UK)

A complex narrative twists and turns back in time to Baedeker’s Italy ... This is a first novel and Lowry has thrown a very considerable talent into it ... Splendidly quirky.

Publishers Weekly

[A] wildly imaginative debut...the bold character work and beautiful prose are reason enough to keep reading.

Kirkus Reviews

An ambitious, accomplished piece of work, part rococo amusement, part darker philosophical judgment.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

This sophisticated, parodic puzzler tells an archly entertaining tale of misdirected ardor.

The Times (UK)

This sparkling first novel is a treat for lovers of elegant mystery and exquisite prose ... A delight.

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Beyond the Book

Lost and Stolen Treasures
According to British journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones, "The most amazing thing is not how many masterpieces go missing or get destroyed but that something so fragile as art survives for any length of time at all."

Yet the lead character of The Bellini Madonna, Thomas Joseph Lynch, is counting on the fact that the mysterious work of art he so fanatically desires still exists several hundred years after it was painted. A rather high hope, especially when the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation says art theft constitutes as much as an $8 billion per annum industry and the Bureau has even assembled a thirteen-member crack team to staff their highly specialized Art Theft Program. What's more, ...

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