This novel is a fictionalised version of the personal life of the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya. It is told through three narrators: Goya himself, his son Javier, and his grandson, Mariano. The main thrust of the story is that Goya’s horrific series of paintings depicting witches, Satanic rites, monstrous devils and suchlike, and collectively known as the Black Paintings, were in fact painted by his son as a way of expressing his feelings about his father.
The novel depicts the deeply flawed relationship between the three generations of Goyas and in particular that between father and son. The narrative structure works very well and is always clear to follow, and the historical context is explained by a helpful concise summary at the end.
I am not sure I would have liked Goya very much as he is portrayed here. He was given to outbursts of rage both against his family and the world in general, and was constantly unfaithful to his long-suffering wife. He never thought his son would amount to much and regularly criticised and put him down. In examining their relationship, the author builds up an atmosphere of psychological tension.
The author himself (who is Polish), apart from being a writer, is also a painter, and his intimate knowledge of the visual arts is very apparent. One very telling insight is that Goya could paint faultlessly such things as gold braid, sashes, faces, breasts under muslin and the neck of a plucked guinea fowl, but every horse he painted was “like an oversized dog”.
Credit must be given to Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who is a full-time translator of Polish literature and who has produced effortless and fluent prose from what I sense is a challenging original text.