Beauty In Thorns is the latest offering by one of my favourite Australian authors Kate Forsyth, renowned for her fairytale re-tellings. I went into this believing Beauty In Thorns was going to be loosely based on the sleeping beauty fairytale. Wrong!
What I discovered instead was a fascinating look at the lives of a group of successful artists known as the Pre-Raphaelites, which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ned Burne-Jones and William Morris. Yes, William Morris of the medieval inspired wallpaper designs and tapestries. I've long admired his designs so it was a pleasant surprise to find him in this novel.
Joining the young artists in the mid 1850s, the novel covers the next 50 years of their lives, including their dreams and aspirations, work with various muses, struggles and successes, love and heartbreak and in many cases their physical or mental decline and subsequent death.
The women in the novel (some beginning as an artist's muse) were equally important to the story and I enjoyed watching their lives unfold within the group as well. Naturally I was most interested in the life, love and work of William Morris and through this book learned that he was an incredibly industrious man. He left an enormous legacy and body of work in all manner of fields, including writing - poetry, essays and translations - textile designs, fabric dyeing, embroidery, stained glass window designs and tonnes more. I think I'm primed to read a book on William Morris next; any suggestions?
My ultimate wish after reading Beauty In Thorns was that the cover incorporated some kind of reference to the art and poetry that was so very much part of the novel. By the end of the book I understood the reference to sleeping beauty - being one of the major series of paintings by one of the main characters - but to me the novel was about all of the artists and their families. I would much prefer to see one of their paintings on the front than a stylised woman that could be any one of the muses or wives in the novel. I guess I'm saying I have an issue with how this was marketed but the writing and the story was a pleasure to read; even if I did have to put the book down to look up various paintings along the way.
I highly recommend Beauty of Thorns by Kate Forsyth to fans of historical fiction and anyone with an interest in art and beauty.
My rating = ****