The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: Our Last Book Club Pick of 2016



Happy New Year and cheers to the first post of 2017! (I’m supposed to be publishing every week, so if you catch me slacking, please call me out!) I’m not big on resolutions since I am the queen of inconsistent but I did map out a general plan for the year concerning travel (my husband laughed at my ideas for this one and said to think smaller), business moves, and various gatherings and expected major expenses. I feel a little more like an adult now. I also resolved to get my toddler to bed before 11pm. (You think I jest.) So far, so good, although my little man knocking out at 8pm inevitably means a 5am sleep-eating marathon.


Was one of your resolutions to read more? How about to read better books? I can’t say that every novel I read in 2016 was a winner. I even selected and fought for a few book club selections which, upon completion, I was thoroughly embarrassed by. Oops. But such is the life of a reader and as with many things in life, we need the bad to help us appreciate how truly beautiful the good ones are.


Case in point: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. After suffering through Alice Adam’s Invincible Summer (my pick, sorry book club members), I was quite smitten with this work. Boasting not one, not two, but three protagonists, the story playfully unfolds, one layer at a time (like varnish on a painting). Typically, I am irritated with time-jumping within a narrative so one could safely assume that I would be downright enraged with three time-traveling narratives. And yet I was not. In fact, Smith’s characters are artfully crafted, I found myself looking forward to catching glimpses into their pasts while attempting to predict the way the separate threads would finally weave together.


Smith opens his story with Marty de Groot, an idealistic silver-spooner, who is the unsuspecting victim of a secret art heist. While on a mission to track down his family heirloom, Marty’s story steps aside to allow the back story of Sara de Vos, 17th century painter, to come to life. Even more interesting than this sub-plot, is the third narrative, that of Ellie Shipley, the graduate student commissioned to duplicate Marty’s priceless painting. Smith toys with discussion of artistic value (such as the value or lack of concerning a forgery), impact of class structure on artistic perspective, and gender bias. Marty, Ellie, and Sara though from very different worlds all share an unexplainable connection with painting and all seek redemption from an element of their past they wish they could “paint over”.


Despite being a card-carrying feminist, I found myself rooting for Marty. Admittedly, some of his action throughout the work are cowardly, even disgusting. Yet, I found him to be a hopeless romantic of sorts and couldn’t help but appreciate his optimism and self-deprecating humor in spite of his glaring faults. Out of the three intertwined stories, I found his to be the most interesting and “honest”, if you will. (This opinion was far from unanimous at book club, mind you.)


The Last Painting of Sara de Vos left me feeling the way a book should: equal parts wistful and inspired. I highly recommend it and plan to check out Dominic Smith’s other major works. As with the characters previously discussed, I too am seeking redemption with our first book club pick of 2017, Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Wish me luck!


If you’re looking to get into some good literature in 2017, here’s a list of our former book club selections as well as my 1-5 star recommendation for each:


December- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith- 5/5 stars

November- Mothering Sunday: A Romance by Graham Swift- 4/5 stars

October- Invincible Summer by Alice Adams- 2/5 stars

September- Film Adaptation of The Light Between Oceans– 4/5 stars

August- (Off for Travel)

July- I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

June- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr- 5/5 stars

May- The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman- 5/5 stars

April- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah- 3/5 stars

March- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff- 3/5 stars

February- Descent by Tim Johnston- 3/5 stars













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