Here in Arizona's Verde Valley it's snowy and cold. Perfect weather for staying indoors with a good book and a cup of something delicious and hot. I just finished this novel and now I have to find something new to read. Bummer. (Not really. I enjoy this sort of dilemma.)
The Cloisters is the debut novel of writer and adjunct art history professor Katy Hays. Her extensive experience in the worlds of academia and art history have served her well in this initial foray into writing fiction. The Cloisters of the title is a real place, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and a fascinating presence in the story as a character of sorts in it's own right. It has it's own website and Wikipedia page, and looks just as gorgeous and mysterious in reality as it's described in the book. The history of the place is fascinating.
The story follows Ann Stilwell, a graduate student who takes a summer job at the Met. And through a series of odd, possibly fortuitous events almost immediately finds herself working at The Cloisters. Ann has basically run away from her home in Walla Walla, attempting to escape the burdens of her father's horrific death and her widowed mother's increasing neediness and demands. The lushly beautiful and complex world within the walls of The Cloisters Museum seems ideal for a woman who needs to refocus and rebuild her life, an absorbing adventure just waiting to be discovered. A medievalist, Ann is hired to join a research team investigating the Renaissance era history of the Tarot, a subject she's not very familiar with.
Here she meets Patrick, an ambitious, driven curator who has an obsession with the history of the Tarot and isn't terribly fastidious about the provenance of the antiques he acquires; his curatorial assistant Rachel, a brilliant, beautiful daughter of wealth and privilege with a complicated and tragic past of her own; and Leo, musician, would-be playwright, moral relativist and gardener who maintains the meticulously re-created medieval gardens of The Cloisters. Ann gradually becomes entwined in relationships with and between all three, while discovering a passion of her own for uncovering the real history of the Tarot as a tool of divination. A strange and compellingly beautiful Italian Renaissance Tarot deck exerts it's attraction on them all to varying degrees, and Ann finds her time, energies and attention becoming increasingly focused on discovering the truth behind it's very existence. When the sudden, shocking death of a member of the research team threatens the entire project, for Ann the line between self-determination and inescapable fate becomes increasingly blurred.
I'd describe this novel as both mystery and psychological thriller. The author has a gift for describing places, objects, and sensory experiences. It's very atmospheric. The story unfolds fairly leisurely, building up to a shattering plot twist or two, followed by an ending that leaves just enough unresolved to make me hope for a possible sequel. For someone who enjoys history, art, and the Tarot (like myself) it's an enjoyable read.
The Cloisters, copyright 2022 by Katy Hays. 312 pages. Published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Thank you for reading. This is an open thread, all topics are welcome.