The hunt for the missing Velázquez begins … and ends! In between, however, several very exciting events overtake this particular Englishman, Anthony Whitelands, described in the blurb as a ‘gentleman, libertine, [and] art historian’. He sounds very much like my kind of fellow, don’t you think? Reviewers are allowed, on suitable occasions, to work in shameless plugs for their own work and so you may discount the next few words if you wish. Having written about an art historian of questionable morality and considerable ambition in my own novel Rembrandt Sings, I am always interested to read about the adventures of similar characters. Whitelands, the creation of Spanish writer Eduardo Mendoza, is called to Madrid in March 1936; that fraught and fractious period prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. His ostensible mission is to evaluate paintings owned by a nobleman who, it might appear, wants to sell them and bank the proceeds abroad to provide for his family should they have to flee the coming crisis.
With so many books on my shelves that are either still to read or which I very much want to read again – right now it’s Middlemarch –, what do I need with not one or two but three book clubs that will be sending me still more books over the next twelve months? And yet, for their different reasons, they have all appealed to me. At least, all of them will be sending me physical books and I can continue my one-man campaign to boycott e-book readers. Admittedly, that’s not quite consistent with my own novel, Rembrandt Sings, being available across all e-platforms but, as the closing line of Some Like it Hot says, “Nobody’s perfect.”
When, as a teenager, I went up to my father’s studio, carrying a cup of coffee for him and a copy of The Observer for me, I set down the coffee and paused for a moment to look beyond the headline that had caught my attention. My father asked me to hold the pose and I eventually stood there for a couple of hours in my pyjamas and dressing gown. The headline is long forgotten but there is a permanent record of the moment, a rear-view portrait of the artist’s son, which now hangs in his grandson’s house.
My novel Rembrandt Sings began in Carmel, more than thirty years ago, when an interesting change in career found me travelling frequently to America and having the opportunity, over a decade or so, to visit more states of the Union than many Americans manage in a lifetime.