national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, October 17, 2023


All in all, a satisfying and gripping read. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer, courtesy of The Witness)

When Bryn Turnbull’s novel The Paris Deception opens in 1940, German-born Sophie Brandt is working as an art conservator in the Musee Jeu de Paume in German-occupied Paris. The museum is a prime target for Nazi looters on the grand scale, led by Hermann Goering, who in fact used it as a repository for stolen artworks while planning their removal to Germany. Having witnessed the burning of what the Nazis termed “degenerate art” – Cubist, Expressionist and Surrealist works - in Berlin in 1939, Sophie is determined to do what she can to save the art under her care.

Meanwhile, Sophie’s estranged sister-in-law, Fabienne, who was once an up-and-coming artist in the modernist style, is making ends meet by sleeping with German officers. That is, until Sophie comes to her with a plan to fake some of the most at risk paintings and hide the originals at Fabienne’s family home.

The novel proceeds in two times – the war years in Paris and flashbacks to the pasts of the two central characters. While the latter can interrupt the flow of what is a pacy and often heart-in-mouth tale, the backstory of Sophie and Fabienne is important, and fleshes out the two, very different, women.

There is also plenty of information to be gleaned on the art of forgery, though, as the author explains in the note at the end of the book, the methods she describes were actually only possible a few years later. That’s fine, though I do take issue with another anachronism that crops up: the mention of pantyhose which were only invented well into the 1950s. And as nylon stockings were a valuable currency during the war, it seems a strange editing failure.

However, it is a minor quibble in what is a lively and entertaining novel. The reader becomes immersed in the horrors of life in occupied France and the sheer venality and brutality of the occupiers while rooting for Sophie and Fabienne. The story also makes a plea for the need to not just fight evil physically, but also to preserve what is good and valuable.

Real people make an appearance, in particular Rose Valland, who was a curator at the Musee Jeu de Paume and who meticulously documented the Nazi thefts, enabling her later work with James Rorimer and the Monuments Men in recovering artworks and, in some cases, seeing them restituted to their original owners. All in all, a satisfying and gripping read. - Margaret von Klemperer

Bryn Turnbull’s novel The Paris Deception is published by Harper Collins:  ISBN 978-1-0354-0628-9