By Katie Ward
Published May 2011
Esther, did you cause my husband to paint you when you ought to have been doing your duties? Did you allow him to stare at you? Did you ensnare him? Did you flaunt yourself?
Seven girls and women reading.
An orphan poses nervously for a Renaissance maestro in medieval Siena, and an artist’s servant girl in seventeenth-century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in legends of knights and battles. A woman reading in a Shoreditch bar catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture, and a Victorian medium in a photographer’s studio holds a book that she barely acknowledges while she waits for the exposure.
Each chapter of this richly textured debut takes us into a perfectly imagined tale of how the portraits came to be. And as the connections accumulate, the narratives leads us into the present and beyond – an inspired celebration of women reading and the artists who have caught them in the act.
Girl Reading is a debut of rare individuality and distinction. Katie Ward inhabits each of her seven scenes, her seven eras, with a fluent and intuitive touch, and sentence by sentence, deft and mercurial, she surpasses the readers’ expectations. What is set down on the page has a rich and allusive hinterland, so that the reader’s imagination has a space to work, and what is unsaid has its own fascination. The writing is full of light and shadow, alive with fresh and startling perceptions. Ward is wise, poised, and utterly original. Her eye and her words are fresh, as if she is inventing the world.