Art History in “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff

After skimming through the summary in my library app, I checked out this audiobook on a lark.  In a novel that both explored Mormon history and culture (from the present to now) and unravels a murder mystery made up by the author, the occasional art history reference popped up.  During a mission in London, one character mentions that famed sculptural tribute to Lord Nelson and another describes Joseph Smith as though he came into this world from an Antiquity era sculptor. In fact, characters would end up compared to art from various Classical revival eras. On architectural references (specifically of the religious type), the book mentions minarets and European influenced architecture found in Utah’s early days. Secular and modern (at the time) artistic media do show up in the text, for such an example came from a person using the daguerreotype to describe their environment.

When I went to do some checking in the print edition found on Amazon, I found a passage I had forgotten about that compared a rundown building to the remnants of Classical global powers. Old World traditions thriving in the New World.

On the plot itself, I enjoyed the story’s bounce between the mystery that occurs during the present day and the apparently real life Mormon history that brought the ban on polygamy in America. On the negative side, I found one of the characters annoying and the mystery reveal and aftermath extremely anticlimactic.  As the story wrapped up, it left me going, “That’s it?”

However, I recommend reading it. Despite the ending, I found the book enjoyable and well put together.

ETA 4-3-2016:  Rewrote a sentence.


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