The Girl in the Painting – Tea Cooper

#book-review #book-reviewer

Thank you @harlequinaus for sending me a proof copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.


For readers of the The True Story of Maddie Bright, The Woman in the Green Dress and The Birdman’s Wife comes this atmospheric and richly detailed Australian historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.

Maitland 1913. Miss Elizabeth Quinn is something of an institution in Maitland Town. For longer than anyone could remember she and her brother, businessman Michael, have lived in the impressive two-storey stone house next to the church. When she is discovered cowering in the corner of the exhibition gallery at the Technical College the entire town knows something strange has come to pass.

Was it the prehistoric remains or perhaps the taxidermy exhibition that had reduced the whale-boned encased pillar of society to a quivering mess? Or is there something odd about a striking painting on loan from the National Gallery?

Mathematical savant Jane Piper is determined to find out. Deposited on the doorstep of the local orphanage as a baby, she owes her life and education to the Quinn’s philanthropic ventures and Elizabeth has no one else to turn to.

As the past and the present converge, Elizabeth’s grip on reality loosens. Can Jane, with her logical brain and penchant for puzzles, unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late?

Ranging from the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, the bucolic English countryside to the charm of Maitland Town, this compelling historical mystery in the company of an eccentric and original heroine is rich with atmosphere and detail.

My review

The Girl in the Painting is a mysterious and poignant historical fiction novel.

Tea Cooper is a master of the dual timeline novel. The story follows two strong female protagonists and their intertwined stories. This is another of Tea’s novels in which the female characters show their attempt to defy society’s expectations of what a woman should be and work hard to be true to themselves. Elizabeth’s past, present and future had me guessing throughout the novel… Elizabeth and her brother, in time, make a life for themselves in Maitland, NSW Australia, after travelling from England. Their arrival to Australia is not what they had pictured. The story also follows Jane, gifted mathematician, who was taken in by Elizabeth and Michael. Jane attempts to help Elizabeth, as she is considered mentally unstable due to episodes and flashbacks experienced. The regrets and love stories were a huge part of my hopes for the female characters. I enjoyed the romance in the novel.

I enjoyed Tea’s historical setting, in particular since it is set not far from where I live. Maitland in the early 1900s is not what I envisioned. I found myself researching this time and am grateful to have read a work of fiction that has lead me to realise these events in history, including the racial discrimination and way in which immigrants lived. They were forced to live in such inhumane conditions.

I also enjoyed the way in which Tea describes the artworks and the significance of them in respect to the mystery at hand.

I would highly recommend this novel and find that Tea Cooper’s style of writing is compelling. Her novels that I have read have all been enjoyable reads.


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