A Portrait of Emily Price is Katherine Reay’s fourth novel, and all have similarities. They’re all contemporary, yet with a strong nod to literary masterpieces of yesteryear. They all feature strong characters, especially the flawed heroines from messy backgrounds trying to find their way in the world. If Katherine Reay’s were young adult novels, they’d probably be called coming of age, but they’re definitely not YA—the themes are definitely grown-up.
They’re character-driven novels. The plots often meander, especially in the beginning, and it’s only when I finish the novels that I realise how all the threads have been pulled together. Yes, the writing is outstanding.
But that leaves me with a dilemma every time I come to start a new Katherine Reay novel: will it measure up to my memories of the previous story?
Well, I’m pleased to report that A Portrait of Emily Price measures up, and more. The beginning was a strange mix of slow and fast. Fast, in that Emily and Ben meet and fall in love so quickly, but slow in that we’d almost reached the halfway point before Emily arrived in Italy … which would have been a spoiler if it wasn’t for the book description:
Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .
Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.
But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.
Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family.
Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.
Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?
Don’t you just love it when the book description is a plot summary rather than a teaser? No, nor do I.
As suggested in the book description, the story really hits its stride in the second half, when Emily arrives in Italy. It’s as though the first half is all the back story and set up necessary for us to understand Emily’s actions and reactions in Monterello, because it was here we got to see Emily change—and it was great to see.
A Portrait of Emily Price isn’t specifically Christian fiction. There is no conversion, and while the Vassallo family are obviously all Roman Catholic, there is little to hint that their faith is separate from their small town Italian culture. Yet there are hints, especially in Emily’s conversations with the town priest, and in the underlying themes of acceptance and forgiveness.
Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Katherine Reay at her website and you can read the introduction to A Portrait of Emily Price below: