Angela is an American art historian with a concentration in the Italian Renaissance. That makes her perfect for her internship at the Getty museum, where she’s working (and being sexually harassed) when she meets Alex, an international art detective. He’s investigating a lost painting believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Alex and Angela find they have an immediate connection fueled by centuries of their reincarnations finding each other and suffering tragically for it. Together they set out on a fast-paced mission to find the missing painting before the sleazy, scheming curator of the Getty can get his hands on it.
I liked the idea of the novel. European history is fascinating, and the truth is there’s a lot of information from that time that has been lost. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but the most interesting is the practice of destroying documentation from that time period. Some powerful people from that time period were really invested in keeping certain events quiet. I also liked this book because it was a well-timed read for me. I just arrived back home from my own study abroad experience in Florence studying art history, which is where a large part of the novel takes place.
The layering of the different timelines was done really well. This book was really three stories told in one, but it would have been overwhelming to go through them all at the same time, and it would have been boring to only go through one at a time. The choice to provide relevant flashbacks when they’re useful was good for pacing and for allowing the reader to really absorb the story.
The dialogue is choppy and awkward. It works for how we assume people of the Renaissance era talk, but it works less well for the storyline that takes place in WWII, and even less for the conversations that take place in the modern time period. The author also needs to work on her strategies for making significant reveals. This book is supposed to suspenseful, but any major moments lacked the necessary subtlety or tact to give it the gravity it deserved.
The relationship Angela and Alex share is enjoyable, I might even call it steamy. But I don’t like how Alex views Angela, or, more specifically, how Alex’s view of Angela is portrayed as virtuous or chivalrous in some way. There’s a point where he’s going on about how she’s hard to resist, even though she’s in a vulnerable position. That doesn’t make him better than a decent person, but the author attempted to attribute a lot of gravity to the situation. That made me uncomfortable.
It’s eventually revealed that Alex and Angela are reincarnations of several couples throughout history. I loved that because I like the idea of reincarnation and “one true love” and all that nonsense. I get it, it’s cheesy. However, when it’s written well, it’s swoon-worthy. Alex and Angela’s relationship lacked the nuance and subtlety necessary for it to feel like a well-fleshed romance story.
I eventually give The Girl Who Knew da Vinci 2 out of 5 stars. There were some things I liked a lot, but my biggest complaints were with the writer’s technique. This book amounted to a lot of unfulfilled promise for me. I do recommend this book to people who are interested in European history (for example, if you enjoyed the storyline for The Da Vinci Code, Reign, The Crown, etc.), but would dissuade anyone for whom writing style can be a deal breaker.