Ward’s debut novel is a brave, original effort. The concept is irresistible: Seven girls/women read while living out a portion of their lives before us. Each one is involved in some way with an artist and portrait, adding another appealing dimension to the stories. From Simone Martini in 1333 to Sincerity Yabuki in the near future of 2060, we are drawn into their very personal world, hear their thoughts, imagine ourselves in their moments on this earth. It’s such a seductive idea, and it works to a point.
The problem for some readers will be the sometimes overly creative, sketchy style of prose. The present tense narrative is manageable, and the stream-of-consciousness flow of observations does convey a flavor of the setting and mood. But the complete absence of quotation marks to separate dialogue from interior observations is distracting and forces the reader to work harder to sort out information, to know who is speaking or when thoughts are being provided by the author rather than the character.
That said, if the reader can accept the unfamiliar style and take on the extra demands of adapting to the author’s chosen technique, this is a rewarding read. Fresh and mysterious and intriguing, the stories of these women’s lives reel past us. A Renaissance orphan poses in Siena. A servant girl in Amsterdam daydreams of knights. A female painter, rare for the 18th century, paints a dead poetess. And on through the Victorian era, the Great War, the discovery of photography, ending with a new reality based on a startling cyber-revolution.