If you like fiction which has a root in real life then this book is for you. The real life in questions is that of artist and adventurer, Vivant Denon, brought to life through a series of episodes taking us from Burgundy to St Petersburg, Paris, Venice and Egypt. Alongside fact 'intriguing possibilities' and 'unrecorded companions' are added, most notably a loyal valet and a young woman who is determined to discover answers about her life. Places and Denon's constant loves - a Venetian Contessa and art - are clearly evoked in an enjoyable and intelligent read.
Baptiste had never seen Versailles, but he could itemise the treasures, conjure up the soft bloom on damask walls, the predominating colours of Sevres and Meissen. Because what V saw, his valet, too, saw through his master's eyes. together they shared the day, V carrying Baptiste along, describing it all, every shade and contour, while he was shaved and bathed and powdered and dressed. And in the retelling, Baptiste liked to think, he could be useful: through the valet's questions, V might be made aware of some quality he had originally overlooked; take note of an additional detail - detail was all important: 'Look closely, approach the heart of it.' Art was mysterious, it must be examined, questioned, to be understood.