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Novel set in London and Paris (“To get what she wants, she’ll cross every line”)

28th April 2016

Maestra by L S Hilton, novel set in London and Paris.

novel set in london and paris

Our ARC copy of Maestra set against an original painting, executed by a descendant of Stubbs

Maestra has been compared to 50 Shades by E L James, the popular trilogy that came out a while back, detailing carnal frippery and fondling…. Many a quivering thigh as the suave and experienced Christian Gray lashes the inexperienced Anastasia Steele to the bedpost, with the odd pair of handcuffs for a little bed bonding, and a feather duster or two for a bit of body brushing. Titillating stuff – and very popular if the sales are anything to go by. Indeed, even the Telegraph in its review of Maestra, poses the question: “Is this ‘geeky’ Oxford graduate the new E L James?

However, I am inclined to disagree. Maestra is in a different league. In this book there is not so much a nebulous whiff of womanly wiles and the frisson of pheromones, it is much more a book where the sexual encounters are right in your face, and the business of sex is just that, a means to a pecuniary and supposedly satisfying end.

Judith Rashleigh, also known as Lauren, is a woman on a mission, fuelled by a simmering hatred that drives her calculating behaviour (one could, of course, fall into the trap of trying to understand her behaviour because of a “difficult” childhood, but best not to go there with this astute and ruthless young woman, she would rap your knuckles absolutely raw). She desires the good things in life. She also has a bit of an eye for a good painting and it is clear that the author, too, has more than a passing interest in art and the art trade. She is in fact the academic, Lisa Hilton.

novel set in london and paris

A Stubbs painting via Pinterest

Part of the book features the trade of a George Stubbs painting (the artist commonly known as “the horse painter” of the later 18th Century) – namely “The Duke and Duchess of Richmond watching the Gallops“. It is seemingly caught up in a web of shady dealings, which Judith is determined to explore and gainfully exploit.

novel set in london and paris


She was originally drawn to the world of art by a painting she saw in Florence as a teenager – Allegoria dell’Inclinazione by Artemisa Gentileschi (a rare woman painter of the time, who also tackled the subject matter of Judith and Holofernes, whereby Judith beheads Holofernes, hugely relevant to the plot but I shall say no more!). Judith finds a man who helps her financially to set up her own art trading company/gallery called, unsurprisingly, Gentileschi. Her quest takes her from London to the South of France, Rome, and on to Geneva and then Paris, where she settles for a while and establishes herself in an apartment with the nice furniture and original artwork. The location descriptions of Paris work really well in our terms.

Art is integral to the novel. But one can in no way overlook the other thrust of the book which is the multitude of sexual encounters, graphic at times. They underline Judith’s sociopathic tendencies, that nothing and no-one will stand in her way. She rather likes to have a bit of off-the-wall fun, whether it is working as an escort in London or attending a Fin de Siècle-themed gathering where anything comes (did I really say that?) and goes – nude waiting staff, punters dressed in relevant attire etc. There is liberal use of Monoi Oil for her encounters (which in case you don’t know, is an infusion of Tahitian Gardenias soaked in coconut oil – you can’t say you don’t learn anything from our blogposts). Judith however, does not suffer from traditional sexual addiction, she is more on the sociopath spectrum; essentially she can go days and weeks without a sexual coupling, but when she does, she certainly goes for it, no holes barred.

There are apparently a further 2 books in the pipeline, echoing the 50 Shades trilogy format, but there is also more than a hint of The Talented Mr Ripley in the storyline, the same determined streak to strike out in a self referring way.

For me, this has film written all over it. The paintings to which the author alludes really add to the tableau of the narrative, but not many readers will have the time to look up the referenced artworks. That is a pity. They are part of the Inside/Outside sections of the book, to wit on the outside looking in on a painting, the inside looking out at the marvellous life that Judith has constructed for herself.

The ins and outs of the art dealer world plough through the narrative, slightly tedious at times. The scenes of a sexual nature are slick, educative, toe curling, abhorrent, but they are there to underscore Judith’s cut-throat persona. The scenes are confidently written. There are many mentions of top of the range goods and accessories, some familiar, others too embedded in the stratosphere of the super rich; I found myself consigning them to the annals of useless information – after all, when will most of us encounter them? They basically serve to illustrate the elevated and moneyed echelons of the society in which Judith now finds herself.

Readable, consistent writing but this book is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And maybe at times it tries a little too hard to sock a punch to the reader’s sensibilities.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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