If you loved The Goldfinch, and you’re looking to read more books that bring art and artists into their fictional worlds, look no further. From classic to contemporary literature, earnest to satirical, one of these novels will surely speak to you—and your inner Fabritius.
This Proud Heart
This Proud Heart narrates the experience of a gifted sculptor and her struggle to reconcile her absorbing career with society’s domestic expectations. Susan is talented, loving, and equipped with a strong moral sense, but the intensity of her artistic calling comes at a price, isolating her from other people—at times, even from her own family. When her husband dies and she remarries, she finds herself once again comparing the sacrifice of solitude to that of commitment. With a heroine who is naturalistic yet compellingly larger than life, This Proud Heart is incomparable in its sympathetic study of character.
In the Night Café
Joyce Johnson brings to life a mythic bohemian world where art is everything and life is as full of intensity and risk as the bold sweep of a painter’s brush across a canvas. In the vibrant downtown Manhattan art world of the 1960s, a series of love affairs has left Joanna Gold, a young photographer, feeling numbed. Then, at a party, a painter named Tom Murphy walks up to her. “Why do you hang back?” he asks.
Rather than another brief collision, their relationship is the profound and ecstatic love each had longed to find. But it’s undermined by Tom’s harrowing past—his fatherless childhood, his wartime experiences, and most of all, the loss of the two children he left behind in Florida, along with the powerful red, white, and black paintings he will never set eyes on again. Tom, both tender and volatile, draws Joanna into the unwinnable struggle against the forces that drive him toward death.
Cannibals and Missionaries
En route to Iran, a plane is captured by Middle Eastern terrorists intent on holding hostage the committee of politicians, religious leaders, and activists on a mission to investigate alleged human rights violations by the shah. But the kidnappers soon discover that there is a greater treasure onboard. Among the passengers are prominent art collectors with access to some of the world’s most valuable paintings—priceless works that could fund global terrorist activities for decades.
After the captured plane sets down in a remote Dutch farming collective by the sea, events go rapidly and frighteningly awry. As negotiations with government agencies stall, concerns over rare artwork threaten to trump the regard for human life, and both captors and captives will face bitter truths about their conflicting values, manners, and ideologies as the ticking clock races inexorably toward an explosive endgame.
Inspired by the lives of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, this is a novel of betrayal and longing, renunciation and self-discovery: the age-old conflicts of love and art.
Belle Prokoff is the last of a famous generation of painters. She is also the widow of Clay Madden, who revolutionized American art, became a near-mythic figure, and died in a drunken car crash. Belle has protected her husband’s memory in the decades since his death. She has also persevered with her painting while the art scene fawns over her, not for her own work but for the valuable Madden canvases she clings to.
Now, a biographer is snooping around in her past, working on a sensational book about Madden’s life, and she is forced to make her peace with the people and events that have haunted her for decades. Modern Art is not just Belle’s story. It is the story of all those still living in Madden’s shadow.
A Married Woman
An only child raised to become a dutiful wife, Astha is filled with unnamed longings and untapped potential. In the privacy of her middle-class Indian home, she dreams of the lover who will touch her soul. But her future was mapped out long ago: betrothal to a man with impeccable credentials, with motherhood to follow.
At first, Astha’s arranged union with handsome, worldly Hemant brings her great joy and passion. But even after bearing him a son and daughter, she remains unfulfilled. Her search for meaning takes her into a world of art and activism . . . and a relationship that could bring her the love and freedom she desires. But at what cost to her marriage and family?
The Art Fair
This is a poignant and painfully funny novel about the New York art world. Joan Freeley had it all: the perfect family, the best art dealer in Manhattan, and the admiration of famous friends. Then Joan’s life got downgraded. A brutal divorce led to paintings too bitter to sell and a stagnant career. Unable to see her suffer alone, Joan’s teenage son Richard leaves his father and older brother in Los Angeles and moves in with her. Richard devotes himself to returning his mother to her former glory. But as the years go by, Richard has to ask: Who wants Joan Freeley’s resurrection more—him or her? And when will his own life start?
Men and Angels
When Anne Foster’s husband accepts a yearlong teaching job in France, she decides to resume her own career in art history, which includes cataloging the work of a compelling and long-neglected painter, Caroline Watson. To care for her children, Anne employs the pious Laura Post. Though the young woman is well-liked by the children, she rubs Anne the wrong way. Should Anne be more compassionate, or should she behave more like Watson—the willful artist and unapologetically bad mother she’s so fascinated by? As the discord mounts between Anne and Laura, the need for answers sharpens. Men and Angels is a riveting and refreshingly unsentimental inquiry into motherhood and sacrifice.
At 32 years old, Lynn Gallagher is one of the five most influential contemporary-art gallery owners in Manhattan. Too bad her face is dead. Not so, says Lynn’s assistant, but that is how it feels when she compares it to her stalker’s face. Alan Morton may be a plump, goofy-looking accountant, but his face glows with life when he peers at Lynn through her gallery window. The difference is that Alan wants something—her—very badly, while Lynn wants nothing at all. So she decides to stalk.
The object of her obsession—French attorney Roland Dupont—is chosen at random in a Chelsea bakery. Alan, jealous of Lynn’s newfound hobby, befriends Roland to find out what she sees in him. When Roland learns that he acquired his stalker by happenstance, he decides that he might be interested in Lynn. Soon all three are brazenly pursuing each other across the city—from adult education classes in the art of beading to meetings of Stalker’s Anonymous—as they try to figure out what it is that they truly want.
The Beginner's Book of Dreams
This celebrated coming-of-age novel moves from Manhattan during the early days of Mad Men to the swinging, chaotic 1970s. A sensitive girl becomes a special young woman when her best friend’s family opens her eyes to art.
Esme Singer takes better care of her beautiful, alcoholic mother than her mother does of her. A former fashion model, her mother attracts a series of husbands and boyfriends as Esme watches in fascination. Esme’s father comes and goes, forever riding the wave of the latest get-rich-quick scheme. As Esme becomes a teenager, she turns to her friend Leah’s cultured, exotic family for inspiration and solace—especially Leah’s father, a well-known photographer who encourages Esme to cultivate her gifts. Might art—and a favorite teacher—become the answer to some of her troubles?
The Rose Rabbi
Wolf Walker is that noblest of creatures: the unrealized artist. He is also ethical advisor to the Lester & French Advertising Agency—a professional conscience. After reading an alarming entry in his wife’s diary on his 40th birthday, Wolf sets out to reclaim his sense of identity. His resulting midlife crisis is both surreal and hilarious, poignant and imaginative. The Rose Rabbiis a fable about the relation between morals, art, and life, from one of America’s best writers of fiction.
Featured Photo: Cover of The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt