Katie Ward's debut novel, Girl Reading, is better described as a collection of seven self-contained but intertwined stories drawn from nearly as many centuries and settings. Each story centers on the creation of a portrait of a girl, reading; each reveals a complex and profound relationship between reader, writer and artist.
The book begins in the 14th century and takes us to the year 2060. In between, a teenage orphan poses for Italian Renaissance master Simone Martini; a grieving countess commissions a portrait of her dead poetess lover; a man takes a picture of a young woman reading in a bar in modern London and adds it to his Flickr stream. The stories, though differing in character and circumstance, are threaded together by a deep sense of synchronicity and sparkling allusions to art and literature. In a testament to Ward's deft talent, every character is richly drawn, every chapter crisp with authenticity. When a cameo by Rembrandt and a reference to Flickr comfortably exist in the same book, you know the author has done her work.
Girl Reading's best quality, however, is also its flaw. Ward's tight control over seven centuries of vividly imagined stories is almost too good; the chapters often end too quickly and neatly, just short of satisfaction, lest they sprawl out into books of their own. But in a novel that celebrates the intimate, complicated bonds between women and their books--and each other--that is an easy fault to forgive. --Hannah Calkins, Unpunished Vice