The Watercolourist

Written by Beatrice Masini Clarissa Ghelli (trans.) Oonagh Stransky (trans.)
Review by Viviane Crystal

“It was easy to think I knew everything. I felt like I was on top of the world. And then the bubble burst…” A young artist, Bianca, is hired to illustrate and catalogue the botanical collection of an Italian poet and novelist in 19th-century Milan, Italy. She lives with Don Titta and his fragile wife, rambunctious children, the Don’s dominating mother, and an adopted daughter, Pia. As Bianca’s skill develops over time, so does her relationship with the complex characters in this family. A mystery enters the story with a ghost who appears to almost everyone but who disappears just as rapidly. Bianca discovers the identity of the ghost and, in her naïve innocence, believes she can solve the mystery. But some things are best left alone! So absorbed is she that she fails to notice that she is the object of love from more than one observer.

The plot is simple in this beautiful novel, but what is totally captivating lies in the gorgeous descriptions of colors, shapes, and sizes of the flowers Bianca observes and draws, the mysterious accounts of the men’s political leanings, the thoughts and emotions that obsess the family poet, and the changes that evolve as secrets are revealed and truth is spoken. Bianca matures but pays a huge price for yielding to her base desires, and for her belief that truth is always superior to lies and subterfuge. Bianca draws perfect flowers but fails to see how shadows and different shades of color parallel the lives of Don Titta’s family and friends. Astonishing and compelling historical fiction that is highly recommended!