Monday, September 21, 2020

Tour: All Visible Things

All Visible Things
Brian McPhee
Historical Fiction

All Visible Things is a dual-timeline novel moving seamlessly between modern-day and Renaissance England and Italy.

When Lauren Patterson discovers the diary of a young assistant to Leonardo da Vinci, we are immediately immersed in the personalities and intrigues surrounding the archypical Renaissance man–and animal lover, vegetarian, dandy and bearer of grudges. When not executing the commissions of ungrateful clients, Leonardo juggles finances, apprentices, friends and rivals, all the while making time for his true passion–his pioneering scientific enquiries.

The diaries document a series of dramas–extortion, murder, defamation, betrayal and bitter artistic rivalries–played out against everyday struggles to extract money from clients, manage a hectic studio and, amidst the chaos, create timeless masterpieces, in particular the Mona Lisa, whose complex saga weaves through the narrative. The enthusiastic diarist is Paolo del Rosso, endlessly captivated by the vibrant life of Florence and enamoured of Chiara, Leonardo’s beautiful goddaughter and the model in some of his greatest paintings. Their tender, decades-long relationship is the constant thread through the Renaissance tapestry, as their lives are unwittingly unravelled by a devastating intrigue that unspools down the years.

The discovery of the diaries is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Lauren, but one threatened by academic jealousies, unwanted media attention and personal insecurities. However, a partnership and friendship develops between the young American researcher and an English art dealer as they come together to find the final pages of the diary and track down Paolo’s charming portrait of Chiara, drawn with the encouragement and assistance of Leonardo–a trail they follow from Renaissance Florence to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to a thrilling dénouement when the portrait gives up its astonishing secret and our protagonists embrace their future.

While All Visible Things is a work of fiction, its themes and settings are based on extensive research into the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci and everyday life in sixteenth century Italy. It combines the sweep and drama of Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy with the intimacy of Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring.

5 out of 5 fairies

All Visible Things is an immersive read. Thanks to McPhee's extensive research and unique writing style, it feels as though you're watching a movie unfold, and reading actual diary entries written by DaVinci's assistant. I found this to be a bit more enjoyable than The DaVinci Code, and if you liked that you will absolutely love this. 


May 2nd 1503
I have never seen Maestro Leonardo so angry. He announced his return from the home of Signor del Giocondo by slamming the door. He then swept his eyes around our bottega before fixing on Salaì. In a loud and harsh voice, he scolded Salaì for the untidiness of his workspace, then cast him out with a command to stay away until he could swear an oath to mend his ways. Maestro then stormed across to Agostino and berated him for the slovenliness of his vestments, driving him out also, declaring he should return only when newly bathed and attired in fresh clothes. I confess, at this I became extremely anxious, worried that I too would incur Maestro’s wrath for some fault.
Fortunately, his harsh words with Salaì and Agostino had sated my master’s temper, although not his anger.
Still with a rough tongue, he addressed me. “That despicable creature, that pretentious cloth merchant, had the temerity, the insolence, to demand–I tell you, Paolo, the scoundrel actually demanded–that I paint his miserable mouse of a wife, Mona Lisa.”
“No matter, Maestro, we will find another, a more worthy commission, I am certain of it.”
At this, I witnessed a peculiar transformation of my master. His entire person seemed to shrink as he threw himself onto a chair where he lowered his head into his hands.
His voice was muffled when at last he responded in his normal, pleasant voice.
“I regret very much, Paolo, that I had to accept Giocondo’s appalling commission. And you will weep at the miserable fee I was compelled to accept.”

Present Day – Oxfordshire

Lauren Patterson slumped back in her green leather chair and stared, mesmerised, at the extraordinary document in her hand. After what seemed an age, but was in fact no more than two minutes, she lifted her eyes and gazed blankly around the room, her thoughts in a tumult as she contemplated the implications of what she held in her hand. Absently, she admired the way the louvred blinds beside her sculpted the late afternoon sun into a pleasing arrangement of stripes marching resolutely across the gleaming surface of her desk. She tracked the alternating procession of light and shade, finally arriving at the battered box crammed with musty papers. The old container was newly beguiling, its siren whispers promising new secrets.

Brian McPhee lived in Glasgow, Scotland until he was 21, when he moved to London. In his early 40s, he emigrated with his wife and daughter to Maryland, USA. After a successful career in IT marketing and management, he and his wife moved once more, to Monpazier in southwest France. All Visible Things is his third novel.


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