Steve Martin’s latest novel is not funny. He plays it straight in An Object of Beauty as the world chronicled within is so full of self-parody that there’s little need to add extra layers of satire to achieve a certain sort of vicious comedy.
Set in New York during the 1990s, the story is narrated by Daniel, an art critic and observer of the scene and friend of Lacey Yeager. Lacey is determined to get to the top however she has to do it, and through a mixture of making her looks and wardrobe work wonders for her along with her willingness to do whatever it takes (including hard work and sex) she will get her own gallery. She gets into some scrapes along the way, but being a user wriggles out of them.
What becomes clear is that true art collectors are rare things. Art and particularly contemporary art is really a commodity and once Lacey learns to look at art with dollar signs instead of an appreciative eye, she is lost – but then that’s what she wanted from the start. It’s a horrible world full of horrible people mostly. Daniel our narrator being on the edge comes out better than most, and you can feel enormous sympathy for the French dealer Patrice who falls for Lacey but gets spat out when he comes to the end of his usefulness. Lacey of course is the object of the title with Daniel worshipping her on a pedestal from afar, though her beauty (like much of the art within?) is totally superficial.
Given that I know nothing about American contemporary art really bar Warhol, natch (and he’s dead!), it was really useful to have many of the real artworks mentioned pictured in the text. This gives the novel a more biographical feel, but was also very useful to see what they were talking about.
But all good things come to an end. The contemporary art world collapses after 9/11 and everything just fizzles out, which made a slightly damp squib of an ending to this otherwise very enjoyable story.
I felt that Martin knows what he’s talking about – I’d hope he’s a collector though! (8/10)
Book chosen from a list supplied by Amazon Vine to review.
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An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin