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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mona Lisa

Alexander Lernet-Holenia

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To purchase Mona Lisa

Title: Mona Lisa
Author: Alexander Lernet-Holenia
Genre: Novel
Written: 1937 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 88 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Mona Lisa - US
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Mona Lisa - Deutschland
  • Germn title: Mona Lisa
  • Translated by Ignat Avsey
  • Previously translated by Jane B. Greene (1954)

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing trifle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday . 24/1/2016 David Evans
TLS . 4/5/2016 Ricky D'Ambrose

  From the Reviews:
  • "This exquisite 1937 novella by Alexander Lernet-Holenia, the Austrian writer and critic, provides the world’s most famous painting with a new origin story." - David Evans, Independent on Sunday

  • "Here, and all at once, many of Lernet-Holenia’s nuanced sensibilities are on show: the quick gestures; the incremental mapping of movements; the way a character’s dialogue is split by unanticipated bits of description." - Ricky D'Ambrose, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Alexander Lernet-Holenia's Mona Lisa, nicely packaged in a small volume by Pushkin Press, is hardly a full-fledged novel (or even novella); it's barely more than a story -- but appealing enough as a small, historical trifle.
       Mona Lisa begins with Louis XII of France sending off a force on a second Italian campaign in 1502, led by Marshal Louis de la Trémoille; among his entourage is a Philippe de Bougainville. Spoils of war are harder to come by in this second campaign, and La Trémoille decides: "to concentrate on the purchase of objects of art" -- leading him, in Florence, to the home of Leonardo da Vinci. It is Bougainville who glimpses the unfinished portrait of Mona Lisa there, and though Leonardo demurs -- "It is woefully unfinished. It's a mere trifle" -- Bougainville is bewitched by the image of the woman captured by the painter.
       Leonardo is constantly working on many different projects -- but not getting around to finishing many:

He had no end of projects on the go, practically all of which he later abandoned to preoccupy himself with anything that took his fancy, rather than with the matter in hand. Perhaps he realized that in truth nothing could ever be accomplished fully. It is certain that nothing, or almost nothing, is ever accomplished to the end, and the little that has been may, in the last analysis, be a delusion.
       As to the Mona Lisa-painting, Leonardo notes in particular:
(D)espite my efforts to capture it, the smile of this woman has eluded me. Every smile is a mystery, not only of itself, but in every other respect too. But I have no clue to this mystery.
       Bougainville becomes obsessed -- and convinced that the sitter of the portrait is not, as everyone claims, dead. He goes to considerable lengths to convince himself she is still alive -- and is determined to save her. Things get out of hand, and do not go well -- but Leonardo finds his missing inspiration, the final clue to the mystery that had baffled him.
       It makes for a nice little story about the Gioconda's smile; a trifle, certainly, but appealing enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 February 2016

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Mona Lisa: Reviews: Alexander Lernet-Holenia: Other books by Alexander Lernet-Holenia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Alexander Lernet-Holenia lived 1897 to 1976.

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