The subject of Sarah Miano’s second novel is Rembrandt van Rijn. This is by no means a conventional fictional biography of the renowned eccentric artist. The story is in the form of a journal in which Rembrandt enters his private thoughts and memories, combined with biographical fragments gathered by a youthful admirer, one Peter Blaeu. Peter’s infatuation with Clara de Geest, a distant relation of the painter, is another main element of the plot. Interspersed with these strands are very brief verse and short story cameos that touch on Rembrandt’s life in various aspects, some only marginally. This mélange works well, if only because the historical milieu and knowledge of Dutch art and Rembrandt’s painting techniques are excellent. There is a considerable body of historical learning thrown in, but none of it is gratuitous or unnecessary to the story.
The author clearly has an intimate knowledge and sympathy with the streets and canals of 17th century Amsterdam, and the narrative describes the bustling odorous and very often harsh life of those days. Just one criticism of the typography – the parts of Rembrandt’s journal, which accounts for about half of the book, are written in italics; long passages in this small point are not easy on the eye.