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The Center of the World
     

The Center of the World

by Thomas Van Essen, Various Narrators (Read by)
 

Alternating between nineteenth century Europe and present-day New England, the narrative follows the great British painter J. M. W. Turner and his scene of artists, intellectuals, and lovers; and Henry, a middle-aged family man whose otherwise mundane existence is disrupted by the discovery of The Center of the World, Turner's controversial painting of Helen of

Overview

Alternating between nineteenth century Europe and present-day New England, the narrative follows the great British painter J. M. W. Turner and his scene of artists, intellectuals, and lovers; and Henry, a middle-aged family man whose otherwise mundane existence is disrupted by the discovery of The Center of the World, Turner's controversial painting of Helen of Troy that had been thought to be lost forever.

This transcendently beautiful painting was so erotic that it was hidden away and supposedly destroyed ... until Henry happens to stumble upon it while vacationing at his summer home in the Adirondacks. Now in possession of an object of unimaginable value, Henry finds himself torn between wanting to sell the work and keeping something of beauty in his life. Returning to the nineteenth century, the reader follows the creation of the painting and learns more about Turner's beliefs, technique, manner, and indecorous affairs. Filled with sex, beauty, and love (of all kinds), this novel explores the ever-evolving role of art in our lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Van Essen’s debut novel departs from the recent real-life discovery of maritime landscapist J.M.W. Turner’s erotica to trace a fictional portrait by the painter of a scantily clad Helen of Troy awaiting Paris. Van Essen begins with art critic John Ruskin’s legendary destruction of Turner’s scandalous output before flashing back to the portrait’s origins in an after-dinner conversation between Turner and his patron, Lord Egremont. Flash forward to modern-day art dealer Arthur Bryce as he pursues the once-infamous, now-invaluable painting. Another flashback, to the early 20th century, finds wealthy American Cornelius Rhinebeck transporting the painting of Helen from England to his Adirondack lodge, where it remains hidden until middle-aged Henry Leiden encounters it while sorting through his deceased father’s belongings. All who meet Turner’s Helen see simultaneously truth, beauty, and the impetus for sin. With the painting’s journey, newcomer Van Essen demonstrates a flair for dialogue and an appreciation for how art moves the human heart. Agent: Chris Calhoun, the Chris Calhoun Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
"A terrific debut novel about the mystical and erotic power of art...Van Essen writes gracefully and makes accessible the issue of art as transcendence." —Kirkus (starred review)

"Lyrical prose and a cast of eccentric and exotic characters make this an unforgettable read." —Cayocosta

“Was J.M.W. Turner anything like Thomas Van Essen has presented him in this ambitious debut novel? After a few pages you will hardly care, as you will be gladly moving from the dinner table of Turner’s patron in early 19th century England, to the calculating art world of present-day New York City, to the rustic beauty of the Adirondacks and all its treasures, hidden and otherwise. In Thomas Van Essen’s characters and the impressive scope of this story we are given a strong case for the transformative nature of art, and how beauty can be a balm for the human soul.” —Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever and The Walking People

"Van Essen’s debut novel departs from the recent real-life discovery of maritime landscapist J.M.W. Turner’s erotica to trace a fictional portrait by the painter of a scantily clad Helen of Troy awaiting Paris...All who meet Turner’s Helen see simultaneously truth, beauty, and the impetus for sin. With the painting’s journey, newcomer Van Essen demonstrates a flair for dialogue and an appreciation for how art moves the human heart." —Publishers Weekly

“An utterly absorbing journey of the spell cast by a secret painting on those few who have seen it over a hundred and fifty years.  Love and desire, treachery and mystery, great beauty and the loss of it and finding love at last when you thought it was gone—all kept me up late reading this passionate novel of human fallibility and immortal art.” —Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: a novel of Monet

"The main character in Van Essen’s ambitious debut novel is the lost titular painting by renowned British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851). The big theme is among the biggest: the power of art." —Booklist

"Mature readers will relish the intellectual examination into the powers of art and eroticism." —Foreward Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A terrific debut novel about the mystical and erotic power of art. At the center of the center, as it were, is a hypothetical painting by the 19th-century artist J. M. W. Turner, one in which he brings all his genius to bear. The title of this painting is "The Center of the World," and it features an astonishingly sensual portrait of Helen of Troy and Paris, with whom Helen eloped. The picture is so scandalous to 19th-century mores that it's hidden away and believed to have been burned, but it turns up in 2003, of all places in a barn in the Adirondacks. It's a testament to Van Essen's control that he makes this scenario plausible, for it turns out that Cornelius Rhinebeck, the owner of a neighboring estate, was a rich captain of industry who, in the early-20th century, amassed a collection of European art, some of it acquired through questionable channels. Henry Leiden, who finds the painting, desultorily heads a small foundation and feels his life, and especially his relationship with his wife, is at an impasse, but the painting exerts an almost otherworldly influence on him. Van Essen creates a complicated narrative structure involving Leiden, Charles Grant (who posed for Paris when Turner was engaged in the painting at Petworth, the estate of the Third Earl of Egremont), Mrs. Spencer (Egremont's mistress and the model for Helen) and the mysterious Mr. Bryce, head of a firm that arranges art sales and an aesthete who desperately wants to track down the elusive Turner painting. Actually, this masterpiece winds up turning everyone who comes in contact with it into an aesthete--and it also seems to have an almost miraculous power as an aphrodisiac. Van Essen writes gracefully and makes accessible the issue of art as transcendence.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781470881474
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
06/28/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Van Essen graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and earned his PhD in English from Rutgers University. He lives in New Jersey with his family. The Center of the World is his first novel.

Thomas Van Essen graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and earned his Ph.D. in English from Rutgers University. He lives in New Jersey with his family. The Center of the World is his first novel.

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