The Girl from Oto

Written by Amy Maroney
Review by Sally Zigmond

This novel has a complicated, interconnecting dual timeline. One is contemporary in which Zari Durrell, an American art historian, secures work in Scotland to research the life and work of a female Flemish painter. However, there is something in the style of one painting that leads her to think that it’s not by her at all, but by another mysterious female painter called Mira. With several tantalising clues to work from, and the skill of a detective and forensic scientist, Zari travels first to Oxford, then Belgium and on to the Pyrenees to consult museums and other experts for further information. The second timeline concerns this mysterious Mira herself at the beginning of the 16th century. Born a daughter of a noble family called Oto, but brought up in a convent because the Otos “do not bear sons” (in other words, they are disposed of in some way), she grows up to be a spirited and highly intelligent young woman, unsuited to the life of a nun, who develops great skill with pen and paintbrush.

This is a novel with rich and wide-ranging detail far too complicated to mention in a few scant paragraphs. If I say the history of Spain and France and medieval merino wool production, not to mention Da Vinci Code-type intrigue, you get the idea. However, Amy Maroney is a more stylish writer than Dan Brown, even though this novel contains violent pursuit, death, disaster and romance. In fact, there’s something for every taste. That said, at over 500 pages, it is far too long and slow, especially as this is only the first book of what will be a monumental trilogy. I did enjoy it but am not sure if I loved it enough to read two further volumes.