Today is my stop on the TLC Book Tour for Barbara Mujica’s novel I am Venus. I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
I am Venus is the story of Diego Velazquez and the mysterious model of his only surviving nude painting. Told from the model’s perspective, it explores Velazquez’s rise to prominence amidst the Spanish court.
Velazquez’s paintings feature a motif of mirrors. If you look at the mirror in the painting of Venus, you will notice that the perspective is off. If the mirror reflected the woman in the picture, it would be showing her boobs. Instead, the mirror disguises the model’s identity.
The mirror motif becomes integrated into the story as Barbara Mujica sheds light into Velazquez’s world. She highlights the contrast between the rigid Catholic ideology of the Inquisition and the decadence and corruption of the Spanish court.
Mujica integrates the same contrast between appearance and reality into her narration, alternating between the perspective of the aged model who posed for the painting and a third person omniscient point of view. While I can appreciate the artistry that went into this technique, I felt that it made the writing seem choppy and disjointed. The abrupt segues into the first person broke my immersion. At the same time, I don’t think I’d have had the same connection to the painting if the book was narrated differently, and I admire the creativity that Mujica displays.
Even though I was ambivalent on the writing style, the story itself was fantastic. Velazquez’s relationship to his wife Juana is an integral part of I am Venus, and the author paints a complex portrait of the way that their relationship changes over time. Juana grew on me as the book progressed. At first, I found her to be self-centered and naive, especially when expressing her jealousy toward women who modeled for Velazquez’s paintings. She was particularly venomous toward Lidia, a young servant girl who assisted in Velazquez’s studio. I felt for Lidia, especially because of the power imbalance between the two women, and felt that Juana was lashing out at the wrong person. As Juana matured, she became more empathetic. She learned to see outside her narrow world and to genuinely care about other people. Her relationship with Velazquez deepened, and she felt a greater connection to his world.
Overall, I was impressed with I am Venus. Despite the narration style, I felt immersed in Velazquez’s world. I’d recommend it to fans of historical fiction and art.