Waking Isabella: Melissa Muldoon
Isabella, Margherita Carlotta would haunt the mind of Leonora (Nora) in the present as she meets each one in the past hoping to learn more about each one’s life, their deaths and the betrayals that they endured while finding her own way or new path in the present. Going to Italy to film a documentary about the life of Isabella de Medici, Nora a research assistant facing demons from her past and trying to learn to move forward in the present finds herself bound to not only the life of Isabella, feeling like she experienced her death at the hand of her husband and the betrayal of her own brother, we see her haunted by the ghost of this woman we join her in her quest to learn more about a painting of Isabella and her mother that has been missing for decades. Imagine wanting to bond with a ghost and hoping throughout her visit that somehow Isabella would appear. Every person has his/her own quality that makes that person stand out. The quality present in a person that gives others intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind is often caused by the person’s appearance, sound of their voice, color, or as in art the design, pattern or personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest. Beauty can also be defined as external and internal. External beauty, which is the focus of how Nora and others view Isabella, is the beauty that defines her face, dressing sense, money, and how you judge a person when you meet them for the first time. But , sometimes the outer beauty masks the inner truths about a person as you get to know Isabella, meet her father Cosmo and realize that her outer beauty is what helped create her as a person, allowed her to use it for her own selfish needs and at times captured the hearts of men but in the long run it did not safe her from her fate. She enjoyed toying with men and yet her lover was someone who she thought remained a secret. Leonora envied her in a sense thinking that the way to someone’s heart is your outer shell.
Isabella had her own internal beauty, which belonged to her heart when it came to her lover and those she felt she could trust. How she thought, talked, reacted and at times respected others like her father. But, she was so transfixed on her appearance that she took little time to care about what was really inside of her. The world saw what Isabella wanted them to see and even her own father was blindsided.
Nora was smart, intellectual thinking and had good behavior and as you get to know her better you realize that she had a low self-esteem of herself at first but as you get to understand her, visit the home of Isabella, help her create her documentary you realize that she has more depth but has yet to realize it. As the story evolves we learn more about the art world and the many sites she visits in Italy as we understand the beauty of nature and the world, The water, the sky, the landscapes, the ocean and the many exhibits she visits, celebration of Isabella’s life and the beauty of visiting places that are blessed by natural beauty in order to see the work of God and his creations. Look at the sky on any night and see the stars, the planets and realize beauty if everywhere just open your eyes.
The author then goes back in time many times so that we understand Isabella as she relates to her lover how her brother and husband did not give her the money and inheritance left to her by her father. Instead they planned her death and demise.
Nora and her friend Juli rekindle their friendship and she becomes more enriched with life and the arts when she meets Gianluca(Luca) Donati who owns an antique shop that he took over from his family. Luca harbors guilt and anger when we learn more about his past, his deceased wife and the conditions surrounding their marriage and final separation. He allows Nora into part of his life and tells her about his grandparents Federico and Margherita who smuggled famous painting and art word out of the country during the second world war and their fate as a result of a romance that Margherita had with a man named Ruggerio that caused her family grief and devastation when she decided to marry the artist working for her father. Margherita was Luca’s grandmother and her ghost haunts him as Isabella does Nora and so does Carlotta. Three women betrayed, loved, adored and yet true happiness was short lived for all three as those close to them betrayed their hearts and minds.
Every character evolves and learns more about him/herself as the novel progresses. Luca and Marcus come to terms with their relationship and their feelings for Carlotta. Nora learns more about Marcus and his relationship with Carlotta and why he and Luca appear strained at times. Distance between them widens as she takes on an apprenticeship to learn more about gold and to create the special necklace she sketched warn by Isabella.
Juli and Nora have been friends for so long but can she reveal or will Marcus explain why he’s so distant at times and his problem with Luca regarding his wife.
Luca shares with Nora more about his grandparents and the fact that after the was things got pretty dangerous for the artists who lived there and at that point his grandfather decided to return to Italy. When the author flashes back we get to see Isabella and her mother pose for a portrait one that has gone missing and painted by Bronzino. Federico smuggled a Bronzino painting that came from the Louvre. Imagine that a French dealer giving the lost Bronzino to his grandfather= an artist, to bring Isabella home to Italy to right a wrong. So, where is that painting?
Chapter 16 reminds readers of what happened when Ruggerio realizes that Margherita chose Federico over him even though her father wanted it that way. Years would pass and he would marry but revenge comes in a coldblooded way when she least expected it.
Flashing back to Isabella d then a startling discovery that Luca and Nora make and deciding where her destiny would lead her she had to decide whether to go back to San Francisco to work, stay in Italy and work with Egidio or continue her search. The truth behind the death of Bernardo and Federico comes out as one man confronts the source and the end result will shock readers as a betrayal was uncovered and a cover-up’s revelation too late. The ending will bring joy, tears and beauty into the world of every reader as we learn a secret told by a famous painter whose sculpture as present is being shown in a museum in Copenhagen: “Art is the lie that makes us realize the truth. One should never underestimate its impact for the simple swash of color on canvas, words courageously stroked with an pen, or the strains of an eloquent song have the poser to change a man, a nation even the world.” Nora sums it up perfectly: I believe everything has beauty, even the most simple of things. It is all around us, but not everyone sees it or takes the time to uncover it. So…for me it exists in looking at something with the only purpose being to appreciate it and really see it, as if for the first time. The rest you need to read page 157 to learn her more.
Open your eyes to the world, look around you and look deep into the eyes of those you meet and past the surface and deep within their soul and realize that their inner beauty will shine and their external beauty will wane with the hands of time but beauty is everywhere and the world is filled with so many precious things to see open your eyes and you too might make a startling discovery as Nora did the beauty of three women while she hopes to finally do the impossible WAKING ISABELLA!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine