Girl Reading reads as though its author is five books down. She has plunged straight into a series of difficult challenges, her handling of time and place accomplished with authority, skill and knowledge (Joanna Briscoe The Guardian 6 September 2011)
Here we have seven linked stories about women, each suggesting how a portrait of a girl reading (painted, sculpted, captured on film or projected into a three dimensional world wide web) came to be. Starting in 1333 with an altarpiece for the cathedral in Siena and moving through history into a possible future, the novelist has taken real portraits as her inspiration and vividly depicted an imagined but entirely plausible scenario for each one. It’s rather like Girl with a Pearl Earring, of course, but manages to seem fresh and original.
It’s a book packed full of adventures and stories and you completely lose yourself in them as Ward races from the 1300s into the future. But it’s also a meditation on what it means to be a reader and to be captured in the act … Each story is beautifully self-contained. This is the book’s great strength: the perfect, separate, involving worlds it creates. (Viv Groskop The Times)
Pictures above (clockwise, starting top left) Pieter Janssens Elinga, Woman Reading 1668-70; Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell (neé Stephen) c.1916-17; William Wetmore Story The Libyan Sybil 1861-8; Horatio Nelson King, Giulia Grisi 1860s; Angelica Kauffman, Portrait of a Lady c.1775; Simone Martini, Annunciation 1333.
These were some of the pictures which inspired Katie Ward.