The Optickal Illusion

The Optickal Illusion

In this vividly fashioned debut, Rachel Halliburton draws from the sordid details of a genuine scandal that deceived the British Royal Academy to deliver a stirring tale on the elusive goal of achieving artistic renown.It is 1797 and in Georgian London, nothing is certain anymore: the future of the monarchy is in question, the city is aflame with conspiracies, and the Fren...

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Title:The Optickal Illusion
Author:Rachel Halliburton
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Edition Language:English

The Optickal Illusion Reviews

  • nikkia neil

    Thanks Edelweiss for this ARC.

    A instant classic for me. The satire, buffoonery, and fun of this book cannot be effused enough.

  • Dawning  Moon

    This was a book which kept my attention, most of the time. About a scandal which happened in the late eighteenth century, and was so much more than that.

    It began from a girl’s dream, a girl’s need, and finally a tribute to a person that was dear in her life. The story is all about that, a woman who seeked fame and fortune. A woman with enough talent to pass for it.

    There are appearances of Mary Wollstonecraft just after she married Godwin, as well as other characters. And her words are the most m

    This was a book which kept my attention, most of the time. About a scandal which happened in the late eighteenth century, and was so much more than that.

    It began from a girl’s dream, a girl’s need, and finally a tribute to a person that was dear in her life. The story is all about that, a woman who seeked fame and fortune. A woman with enough talent to pass for it.

    There are appearances of Mary Wollstonecraft just after she married Godwin, as well as other characters. And her words are the most memorable, and one which was the best when it came to how it was. Mary was one of the most interesting women in those times, forward in her ways and mind, and I enjoyed how the author portrayed her.

    As a woman who was observant enough, as well as a woman who will understand Ann Jemina the best.

    And speaking of which this goes into detail about her, the girl who was responsible and pushed for the artwork to be shown and told to the world. The girl who seemed to bear a lot of secrets behind her. And all of this was made so relatable, that even by the end I still could see why it was so and yet still be surprised.

    The plot is slow, but the writing, the emotions more than make up for them. It is beautifully written, carefully arranged so that each chapter will fit perfectly. But the core has been Ann Jemina, what made her be, what caused her to choose this.

    I liked how it was all around her and yet it wasn’t just solely her, all the other characters were given enough depth, enough development. From her father, West, Cosway and Opie. They were all developed and distinct.

    I just enjoyed and savoured every word of the book as it had satisfied me in a long time, in a way that few books ever did. Something worth reading, if you’re interested in history along with character study, this was just that.

  • Cathy

    The author has taken a real life scandal that enveloped the art world of London in the 1790s and fashioned it into an intriguing story of artistic rivalry, deception and debate about the position of women in society.

    Much of the novel focuses on the attempts of Thomas Provis and his daughter, Ann Jemima, to sell a manuscript purporting to reveal the secret of the artist Titian’s famed use of colour. The Provis’s believe themselves adept in their own art form: negotiation. Indeed, Provis has passe

    The author has taken a real life scandal that enveloped the art world of London in the 1790s and fashioned it into an intriguing story of artistic rivalry, deception and debate about the position of women in society.

    Much of the novel focuses on the attempts of Thomas Provis and his daughter, Ann Jemima, to sell a manuscript purporting to reveal the secret of the artist Titian’s famed use of colour. The Provis’s believe themselves adept in their own art form: negotiation. Indeed, Provis has passed on to Ann Jemima all he knows about interpreting other’s agenda and manipulating this knowledge to advantage. The ‘art of the deal’, you could say. As Ann Jemima reminds Thomas, “You have told me often enough that you can only make a great deal if you understand the desires of the person to whom you are selling.” However, it turns out they have underestimated the duplicity of others and how secrets from their past may provide an opening for those who would thwart them or manipulate them for their own purposes.

    As Rachel Halliburton explains in her Historical Note, nothing is known of the real life Ann Jemima, but the author creates a plausible picture of a young woman, a gifted artist in her own right, constrained by the social rules of the time from receiving the recognition her talent deserves. In fact, there are many who decry the whole notion of the education of women. “On most women – and indeed on certain men – education is as wasted as an opium enema on a dog.” Ann Jemima’s frustration at being prevented from pursuing what she loves – and what she excels at – is palpable. She recalls the art lessons she received as a young girl as being ‘like the breath of life in a suffocating existence.’

    As a counterpoint to this, there is a walk-on part for Mary Wollstonecraft, the renowned champion of women’s equality. Following Ann Jemima’s impressive demonstration of the method to members of the Royal Academy,  Mary perceptively observes that they are willing to believe in the authenticity of the manuscript because to do otherwise would credit Ann Jemima with superior artistic talent. As Mary says, “You mean that it is more acceptable that she has discovered something extraordinary, rather than that she is something extraordinary?”

    I really enjoyed The Optickal Illusion and its evocation of a particular milieu of London society.  The philosophical debates and political turbulence of the period provide an additional interesting backdrop to the artistic shenanigans.  I confess it did need my full concentration to follow the chronology of the story given the frequent changes back and forth in time.

    I received an advanced reading copy courtesy of publishers, Duckworth Overlook, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

  • Karen Mace

    This is a sumptuous read, stepping back to Georgian times to take a look behind the scandal that rocked the art world, deceiving so many prominent artists of the time, and looks at those behind the deception.

    I have to admit to knowing very little of the art world, although reading this book has made me eager to learn more, and of the scandal that hit the British Royal Academy but this imaginative and beautifully written novel, sets out to go behind the story and looks at all those involved. The

    This is a sumptuous read, stepping back to Georgian times to take a look behind the scandal that rocked the art world, deceiving so many prominent artists of the time, and looks at those behind the deception.

    I have to admit to knowing very little of the art world, although reading this book has made me eager to learn more, and of the scandal that hit the British Royal Academy but this imaginative and beautifully written novel, sets out to go behind the story and looks at all those involved. The American painter, Benjamin West, is the president of the Royal Academy but his star is waning and has many lined up to take his place, so when he is made aware of a manuscript by a father and daughter duo that is alleged to contain secrets which most artists would kill for, he is intrigued and is taken in by their stories and wants to use these secrets for his own gain.

    The father and daughter have their own reasons for wanting to share this manuscript, and the daughter particularly, Ann Jemima, is such a fascinating character whom I loved reading about. She was so different to many women of the time, who just knew their place in society and were happy to wait for the right man to come along and provide for them, but she knew she wanted more from life. She had a keen eye for art and shocked Benjamin West with her ability when he asked her to demonstrate the secrets from the manuscript. In these modern times, it was fascinating to read of the lengths that women were forced to, to make something of themselves and that often meant by any means necessary! And she was still treated like a second class citizen despite her obvious talent. She was a very tough cookie and very strong-willed and that came through clearly in how she thought she was being treated at times.

    The story is set in such an interesting time in world history and that is reflected in this novel. The political issues facing many countries around the world, alongside the question of the monarchy and slavery were all touched on within this book, and that really made for an even more immersive read.

    It often left me wondering how to feel sympathy for, with the amount of deception going on and really questioned all the characters and their motives! While the story revolves mainly around Benjamin West and the Provises, there are a number of other characters involved who often have an equal part to play in how the story pans out.

    The level of research that must have been involved in the writing of this book must have been staggering, as the art of painting is brought to life in so much detail, and even though it isn't an entirely faithful historical account, it still really captured the shock waves that the scandal created and how life must have been for those at the time.

    Overall, I found this to be an engrossing, historical read and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future!

    Thank you to the publishers for the advanced reading copy in return for a fair and honest review.

  • Helen Hollick

    This book has received a Discovering Diamonds Review:

    Helen Hollick

    founder #DDRevs

    "... everything from clothes to food to interiors in the last few years of the 18th century are so vividly depicted. Her beautiful prose even manages to make a work of art out of one of the best descriptions of a hang-over I have ever read."

  • Rebecca

    Halliburton’s debut novel is inspired by a real-life scandal that shook the Royal Academy of Arts in the 1790s while American-born Benjamin West was its president. The descriptive language is rich with colors and patterns, creating what are basically miniature landscapes. I especially enjoyed the various cameos from other historical figures (like Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine). There are a lot of names and time jumps to keep up with, and the narration moves inconsistently bet

    Halliburton’s debut novel is inspired by a real-life scandal that shook the Royal Academy of Arts in the 1790s while American-born Benjamin West was its president. The descriptive language is rich with colors and patterns, creating what are basically miniature landscapes. I especially enjoyed the various cameos from other historical figures (like Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine). There are a lot of names and time jumps to keep up with, and the narration moves inconsistently between past and present tense. I also found some of the metaphors a bit overwritten. However, this is overall an absorbing story with lively characters and an unconventional female lead.

    (Out on February 8th in the UK.)

    See my full review at

    .

  • Debbie

    I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

    This is a really interesting book based on a true story in the artistic community of 18th century London. The author does a good job of laying the groundwork for the mystery of the story, concealing motives and placing the reader at unease. At first, I was confused with the jumble of characters and trying to keep track of the plot; there was some playing with the timeline that helped to contribute to this con

    I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

    This is a really interesting book based on a true story in the artistic community of 18th century London. The author does a good job of laying the groundwork for the mystery of the story, concealing motives and placing the reader at unease. At first, I was confused with the jumble of characters and trying to keep track of the plot; there was some playing with the timeline that helped to contribute to this confusion as well, but it was born out by the climax.

    Each of the characters are involved in some way in a deception or optical illusion. Optical illusion is also at the heart of what a painting is as well as the idea of the manuscript that would allow the artists to mimic the techniques of Titian. It was very satisfying to see all of these elements to come together in an interesting way.

    As an art history major, I enjoyed seeing the descriptions of painting techniques and the use of the familiar figure of Benjamin West. However, it is not necessary to have an art background in order to understand this book.

  • Melody

    2.5 I was excited about a book with Mary Wollstonecraft though she is a pretty minor player in this story.

  • Sarah Faulkner

    To be fair, I'm stopping reading about 25% in because I just can't get into it at all. It is so boring and disjointed--I gave it multiple "second tries" hoping to be able to get into it because the period and topic are interesting to me, but it's just all blandness and obfuscation and I can't bring myself to care.

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