Gruber and reader Eric Conger do away with all certainty in this literary thriller, in which a brilliant but exceptionally troubled contemporary painter becomes embroiled in a scheme to forge a Velasquez painting, even as he is tormented with amnesic breaks and visions that seem to be from Velasquez's own life. There's a slight shift in pitch as Conger switches from the nameless narrator of the novel's framing sequence to the main story's protagonist, Chaz Wilmot, but other than that, he doesn't attempt to differentiate the other characters' voices from Chaz's. That's an entirely appropriate choice, as this is a frighteningly introspective narrative, recounted by a man who literally does not know who he is from one moment to the next. Is he going mad, being driven mad, actually shifting among realities or some combination of those options? For this audiobook to work, the reader and the author must make the narrator's hallucinatory perspective convincing, and both succeed wonderfully and chillingly at this task. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18). (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In his latest thriller, Gruber (The Book of Air and Shadows) tells the story of Chaz Wilmot, a talented painter in the style of the Old Masters who is unable to make a living in the art world of today. His salvation comes when he is summoned to Italy to restore a ceiling painted by Tiepolo. Once there, he realizes that the job is not so much a restoration as it is a forgery. His work on the ceiling earns him the interest of a wealthy patron who hires him to paint other forgeries. Problems arise when Chaz begins to relive situations from his past and then travel back to the 17th century, where he becomes the Spanish artist Velázquez. Soon, he is no longer sure of even his own identity. Is he losing his mind, or is someone trying to make him think so? Gruber writes with a deft hand, creating a fallen hero who is likable despite his faults. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/07.]
Nanci Milone Hill
The stupendous talent of an otherwise wasted illustrator pushes him to the edge of madness and leads to the creation of an original work by a master who has been dead for centuries. Nobody mixes art, sex, drugs and wit quite like Gruber (The Book of Air and Shadows, 2007, etc.). Here he looks at representational painting, the creative imperative, forgery and the love of children, and the result is again irresistible. Chaz Wilmot, gifted artistic hack, child of a gifted artistic hack, hands a CD to his old Columbia classmate and one-time close friend and asks him to give it a play. It's the narrative of Wilmot's adventures as the artist Diego Velasquez, a trip that began with the ingestion of an experimental hallucinogen administered by yet another old Columbia classmate, now a doctor. The drug sends Wilmot into the skin of the little boy who would grow up to be perhaps the most gifted painter of all time. These intensely interesting journeys are not quite relaxing for Wilmot. In ways they are a reproach for the life he has led, refusing to create the art his ex-wife Lotte, now a small-time gallery owner, still urges him to make. (If he would just cut loose and paint, he could get proper medical care for his sick young son.) The aftereffect of the drug is that he can and does paint, possibly better than ever, concentrating as never before. But those Velasquez trips are increasingly intriguing: He's in Renaissance Madrid painting the king and then back in the present, still painting better than anyone ever has. So well, in fact, that he gains the interest of those in the rich and frightening world of forgers. Alas, the drug also seems to be wiping out his past. Fast, frightening and, asusual, richly imagined.
Booklist (starred review)
“Gruber is on a roll…[a] terrific art-historical thriller…a perfect place to get lost for a few days. Once again, Gruber mines a popular vein and strikes gold.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“This is an art lover’s dream. Mystery and obsession are textured with art history in a plot that explores not only the shifting nature of art, but also the complex nature of identity.
“Ingenious...The author owns his subject matter and packs it with well-researched details, making this...a successful, suspenseful examination of insanity, forgery and reality.”
“Gruber writes thrillers for smart people. This novel is about art and creativity. That sounds lofty, but Gruber gives it humor and heart. The ensuing drama, involving a forgery believed to be the work of Diego Velazquez, keeps you on your toes.”
“Michael Gruber giv(es) us a finale in which the excitement level is high because we don’t know who, if anyone, to trust. It’s a satisfying conclusion, one that will leave readers debating the morality of Wilmot’s final decision.”
“Michael Gruber’s new thriller, THE FORGERY OF VENUS, is as layered as a luminous portrait by an old master. A tour-de-force combination of suspense and characterization, as well as a primer on the world of art and art forgery.”
“A quick and sharp romp through the art world. Downright delicious.”
Toronto Globe and Mail
“This terrific art thriller has history, thieves, insider snippets and a convoluted plot to keep you guessing.”
“(An) imaginative novel of psychological suspense.”
Edmonton Journal (Canada)
“Stunning...utterly unique, and breathtakingly original. It’s one of those novels you want to press upon your friends, fully confident that it will not disappoint. It’s a tour de force performance from Gruber, and a novel worthy of considerable attention.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Michael Gruber’s large and growing number of fans won’t be disappointed with his sixth novel, a thriller in the art history vein. He’s woven a tale within a tale within a tale, all filled with marvelous twists and turns that build suspense and heighten the mystery until the satisfying conclusion.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“THE FORGERY OF VENUS is the latest in Gruber’s series of amazing books. He has applied his deft touch to everything from Shakespeare to shamanism, yielding a finely drawn portrait of an engrossing world every time.“
“Tantalizing...exhilarating. Retains the power from the first chapter to keep readers desperate for the suspenseful, addictive fix of every succeeding one. FORGERY OF VENUS is a highly intelligent novel that entertains and educates.”
“Smart and literate. Gruber approaches art with obvious appreciation, and has woven a clever story with plenty of detail.”
"Gruber is on a roll…[a] terrific art-historical thriller…a perfect place to get lost for a few days. Once again, Gruber mines a popular vein and strikes gold."
“Michael Gruber has created a first-rate thriller that throws the reader into the art world, past and present.”
Read an Excerpt
The Forgery of Venus
Thanks for listening. I realize this is an imposition, but when I heard Mark was throwing this party and he said he'd invited you, I thought it was perfect timing. There's other stuff I want to talk about, but that can wait until I see you again. It's a shame you haven't seen the actual painting—those posters are shit, like all reproductions—but I guess you've read the stories about how it was found and all that. These are lies, or may be lies. Reality seems to be more flexible than I'd imagined. Anyway, let me set the stage for this.
Did you ever do any acid, back in the day? Yeah, now that I think about it, I believe I gave you your first hit, blotter acid, purple in color, and we spent the day in Riverside Park walking, and we had that conversation about seagulls, what it was like to be one, and I seem to recall you transmitted your consciousness to one of them and kited along the Hudson, and then later we spent the bad part of the trip in your room in the apartment. It was just before spring break our senior year. When I asked you how you liked it after, you said you couldn't wait for it to be over. Oh, yes.
And that's my point—it implied that you knew you were doping, knew you were hallucinating, even though the hallucinations might have seemed totally real. One time—did I ever tell you about this?—I was tripped out on acid and I happened to have this triangular tortoiseshell guitar pick on me, and I spent half the night staring at it, and all those little brown swirls came alive and showed me the entire history of Western art, from Lascaux cave painting,through Cycladic sculpture and the Greeks and Giotto, Raphael, Caravaggio, right up to Cézanne, and not only that—it revealed to me the future of art, shapes and images that would break through the sterile wastelands of postmodernism and generate a new era in the great pageant of human creativity.
And of course after that I couldn't wait to trip again, so the next weekend I got all my art supplies lined up and the guitar pick in hand and I dropped a huge fucking dose, and nothing. Worse than nothing, because the guitar pick was just what it was, a cheap piece of plastic, but there was a malign presence in the room, like a giant black Pillsbury Doughboy, and I was being squashed and smothered under it and it was laughing at me, because the whole guitar pick event was a scam designed to get me to trip again so this thing could eat me.
You remember Zubkoff, don't you, my old roommate? Pre-med? The guy who stayed in his room studying all the time. We called him the Magic Mushroom? I heard from him again, out of the blue. He's a research scientist now. I joined a study he was doing on a drug to enhance creativity.
Did you ever wonder how your brain worked? Like, say, where do ideas come from? I mean, where do they come from? A completely new idea, like relativity or using perspective in painting. Or, why are some people terrifically creative and others are patzers? Okay, being you, maybe the whole issue never came up.
But it's always fascinated me, the question of questions, and even beyond that I desperately wanted to get back to the guitar pick, I wanted to see what's next. I mean, in Western art. I still can't quite believe that it's all gurgled down to the nothing that it looks like now, big kitsch statues of cartoon characters, and wallpaper and jukeboxes, and pickled corpses, and piles of dry-cleaning bags in the corner of a white room, and "This is a cock." Of course you might say, well, things pass. Europeans stopped doing representational art for a thousand years and then they started up again. Verse epics used to be the heart of literature all over the world and then they stopped getting written. So maybe the same thing has happened to easel painting. And we have the movies now. But then you have to ask, why is the art market so huge? People want paintings, and all that's available is this terrible crap. There has to be some way of not being swamped in the ruthless torrent of innovation, as Kenneth Clark called it. As my father was always saying.
I mean, you really have to ask, do we love the old masters because they're old and rare, just portable chunks of capital, or do we love them because they give us something precious and eternally valuable? If the latter, why aren't we still doing it? Okay, everybody's forgotten how to draw, but still . . .
Drifting here. Back to Zubkoff. He called me up. He said he was running a study out of the Columbia med school, lots of funding from the government, National Institutes of Mental Health, or whatever, to explore whether human creativity could be enhanced by taking a drug. They were using art students, music students, and he also wanted to get some older artists in on it, so they could check if age was a variable. And he thought of me. Well, free dope. That was never a hard sell.
Anyway, I volunteered, and here we all are. And I'm sure you're wondering now why, after however long it is, old Wilmot is dropping all this on me. Because you're the only one left, the only person who knows me and who doesn't care enough about me to humor me if I'm nuts. I'm being blunt, I know, but it's true. And while I'm being blunt, of all the people I've known, you're the one with the solidest grasp of what the world calls reality. You have no imagination at all. Again, sorry to drop this on you. I'm dying to know what you think. The Forgery of Venus
A Novel. Copyright © by Michael Gruber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.