Bonfire of the Vanderbilts

Written by Gerald Everett Jones
Review by Jo Barton

Bonfire of the Vanderbilts is based on Julius Leblanc Stewart’s 1892 painting entitled The Baptism. This fictional interpretation of the painting’s story is loosely based on fact with a large amount of conjecture.

The story is divided into two distinct time frames. In America, in 2010, Grace Atwood, a young art historian becomes obsessed by the painting of The Baptism and tries to discover as much as she can about its provenance, to the detriment of her own peace of mind. Meanwhile, in the grand salons of Europe, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the story of the artist, his painting and his association with the Vanderbilts gradually starts to emerge.

It is obvious that the author has used considerable research to bring this story to life and there is enough historical content to give the book its identity. The added inclusion of a modern day element adds energy and allows the story to progress on two very different levels. Interspersed within the narrative are a collection of photographs which add interest, and I particularly liked the use of The Baptism painting on both the front and back cover. For greater involvement in the story, the epilogue and reading group guide at the end are particularly useful.

Overall, the novel is produced to a good standard; however the line spacing in the finished paperback is a little narrow and could perhaps be improved upon in further editions.