When they first meet, the Czech-born artist Mischa Svoboda and Greer Gordon, a gallery assistant, turn their backs on every one they care for and flee, living a nomadic existence until they settle many years later on a hilltop in Tuscany. It’s an enchanted life, dedicated to art, wine, good food and dear friendships.
Twenty-five years on, Greer is stricken with anxiety when an inquisitive art historian arrives in her enclosed world. The charming, ambitious Tony is writing a biography of Mischa, and Greer is terrified he will uncover secrets she prefers to remain hidden. She must not only face the past she left behind, but also how her life’s story will be judged by others.
In this tightly controlled narrative, Duigan establishes the inevitability of romantic love as the central pillar of her moral universe and never veers from it. The message is clear: romantic love is a higher law. Loyalty, vows, obligations—none of it matters when love arrives.
Around this idea, Duigan toys with the ways life and biography intersect, and the grievous inadequacy of words to capture the whole. Through a series of conversations and personal musings, her characters offer the full range of opinions. The experience of reading The Biographer is like being at a dinner party with a group of sophisticated people: conversation glides between big questions and smaller concerns; a raised brow tells half a story and the tilt of a shoulder suggests the rest. Like dinner conversation, The Biographer is polite and witty, skimming the surface, skirting hard questions, settling very little—but oh so pleasantly.
The Biographer, Virginia Duigan, Vintage Books.
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2008.