The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell

Published By: Tinder Press
Pages: 448
Released On: 30/08/2022

Winter, 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her.

Lucrezia is sixteen years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away inside Florence’s grandest palazzo. Here, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.

What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival.


*Contains Minor Spoilers*

Thanks to NetGalley and Tinder Press for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I did find this a little harder to get into than say, Hamnet, but I think that’s probably because I had prior knowledge of Shakespeare his family and the inspiration for his play, Hamlet. Whereas I had no prior knowledge for this one. However, that doesn’t matter for long. It quickly becomes more recognisable and it doesn’t really matter if you have any knowledge of these historical figures or not.

It is a bit convoluted at times, a bit busy and you begin to wonder whether it is all necessary. You’ve got pages and pages describing things like a single carriage ride or an action that could have been explained in a couple of paragraphs instead goes on for a couple of pages. There is a risk of the reader losing interest and feeling tempted to skip through.

I did like the two time periods – one pre-marriage and one post – especially when Maggie drops things into the pre-marriage story that don’t seem particularly important and then you see what they mean post-marriage.

I didn’t care much for the main character of Lucrezia. I know she’s still a child and the way girls and women had to behave in this period was very different to not, but I found her to be quite irritating, a bit of a wet weekend. It was like she couldn’t decide if she was going to be the meek mouse who obeys her husband or if she was going to be strong and stand up to him, she kept flitting between the two. And considering we are meant to feel sympathetic for her and her situation, because she didn’t endear herself to me, it wasn’t easy to feel compassion for her and I wasn’t really bothered by what happened to her.

I did get confused slightly at some point when something is given quite a lot of page time, it is never really spoken about again. Such as Lucrezia seeing a tiger for the first time. This goes on for some time, but we never find out the point of it. It is mentioned again near the end but again, to no conclusion. I feel if something is going to have that much time dedicated to it, it needs to have some sort of affect on the storyline otherwise it seems a bit pointless. And at over 440 pages, it stretches out a bit too long, resulting in a fair bit of padding.

I’m torn with this book. I love Maggie O’Farrell’s stories and have got quite the collection going. I think she is a master writer and storyteller and her love of history is clear to see, and she tells stories that I don’t think many authors would attempt. But for all the positives about her as an author, and for all the hype this book has been getting, it fell short of what I’ve come to expect from her work sadly.

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