'A gripping story of love, death, art and deceit' - Sofka Zinovieff, author of Putney
An internationally renowned writer, Valeria Costas has dedicated her life to her work and to her secret lover, Martìn Acla, a prominent businessman. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes; the idea of losing him is terrifying. Desperate to find a way to be present during her lover's final days, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait - insinuating herself into Martìn's family home and life.
In the grand, chaotic London mansion where the man they share - husband, father, lover - lies in a coma, Valeria and Isla remain poised on the brink, transfixed by one another. Day after day, the two women talk to each other during the sittings, revealing truths, fragilities and strengths. But does Isla know of the writer's long involvement with Martìn? Or that her husband had chosen Valeria for the years ahead? Amidst their own private turmoil, the stories of their lives are exchanged - and as the portrait takes shape, we watch these complex and extraordinary women struggle while the love of their lives departs, in an unforgettable, breathless tale of deception and mystery that captivates until the very end.
'A stunning "pas de deux" that is enchanting, thrilling and incredibly moving.' Marie Claire Italia
A sick man's mistress infiltrates his family in Italian novelist Bernardini's mournful English-language debut. When London business magnate Martin Acl has a stroke and falls into a coma, his lover of 25 years, writer Valeria Costas, commissions his painter wife, Isla Lawndale, to make a portrait of her. Valeria travels from her home in Paris to London, where she pretends to not know anything about Isla and her children. As Valeria copes with the strain of not being near Martin, she remembers the death of her sister from leukemia as a child on the Greek island of Rhodes. During a rare call from her mother, Valeria rejects an invitation back to Greece, which she's avoided for decades because of her grief. Valeria becomes friendly with Martin's teenage daughter, Antonia, and Isla recruits Valeria to help find Antonia after she briefly disappears. At a dinner party, Martin's best friend, who knows about the affair, quietly bullies Valeria into leaving London, which prompts her to return to Rhodes. There, she discovers her mother is very sick, which sends her further down a spiral of despair. A delicious final revelation upends Valeria's perception of what others know about her, and adds poignancy to Bernardini's portrayal of these women's reckoning with love and loss. This engrossing outing will impress and surprise readers.