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A stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners, about two young, well-heeled couples whose parallel lives intertwine over the course of a summer, by a sharp new voice in fiction. Wes and Diana are the kind of privileged, well-educated, self-involved New Yorkers you may not want to like but can't help wanting to like you. With his boyish good lo A stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners, about two young, well-heeled couples whose parallel lives intertwine over the course of a summer, by a sharp new voice in fiction. Wes and Diana are the kind of privileged, well-educated, self-involved New Yorkers you may not want to like but can't help wanting to like you. With his boyish good looks, blue-blood pedigree, and the recent tidy valuation of his tech startup, Wes would have made any woman weak in the knees—any woman, that is, except perhaps his wife. Brilliant to the point of cunning, Diana possesses her own arsenal of charms, handily deployed against Wes in their constant wars of will and rhetorical sparring. Vivien and Dale live in Philadelphia, but with ties to the same prep schools and management consulting firms as Wes and Diana, they’re of the same ilk. With a wedding date on the horizon and carefully curated life of coupledom, Vivien and Dale make a picture-perfect pair on Instagram. But when Vivien becomes a visiting curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art just as Diana is starting a new consulting project in Philadelphia, the two couples’ lives cross and tangle. It’s the summer of 2015 and they’re all enraptured by one another and too engulfed in desire to know what they want—despite knowing just how to act. In this wickedly fun debut, A. Natasha Joukovsky crafts an absorbing portrait of modern romance, rousing real sympathy for these flawed characters even as she skewers them. Shrewdly observed, whip-smart, and shot through with wit and good humor, The Portrait of a Mirror is a piercing exploration of narcissism, desire, self-delusion, and the great mythology of love.


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A stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners, about two young, well-heeled couples whose parallel lives intertwine over the course of a summer, by a sharp new voice in fiction. Wes and Diana are the kind of privileged, well-educated, self-involved New Yorkers you may not want to like but can't help wanting to like you. With his boyish good lo A stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners, about two young, well-heeled couples whose parallel lives intertwine over the course of a summer, by a sharp new voice in fiction. Wes and Diana are the kind of privileged, well-educated, self-involved New Yorkers you may not want to like but can't help wanting to like you. With his boyish good looks, blue-blood pedigree, and the recent tidy valuation of his tech startup, Wes would have made any woman weak in the knees—any woman, that is, except perhaps his wife. Brilliant to the point of cunning, Diana possesses her own arsenal of charms, handily deployed against Wes in their constant wars of will and rhetorical sparring. Vivien and Dale live in Philadelphia, but with ties to the same prep schools and management consulting firms as Wes and Diana, they’re of the same ilk. With a wedding date on the horizon and carefully curated life of coupledom, Vivien and Dale make a picture-perfect pair on Instagram. But when Vivien becomes a visiting curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art just as Diana is starting a new consulting project in Philadelphia, the two couples’ lives cross and tangle. It’s the summer of 2015 and they’re all enraptured by one another and too engulfed in desire to know what they want—despite knowing just how to act. In this wickedly fun debut, A. Natasha Joukovsky crafts an absorbing portrait of modern romance, rousing real sympathy for these flawed characters even as she skewers them. Shrewdly observed, whip-smart, and shot through with wit and good humor, The Portrait of a Mirror is a piercing exploration of narcissism, desire, self-delusion, and the great mythology of love.

30 review for The Portrait of a Mirror

  1. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    What a delight. This book made me nostalgic for 2015 — how was that simpler time only 5 years ago? My main takeaway was that this story is ridiculous but, like, aren’t we all? The characters are absurd but (regrettably) relatable. Taking a selfie at a museum? Yup. Bantering over IM at work? Oh yeah. Late night dancing in a dive bar? Well, not during a global pandemic but, man, I wish. While the plot is dynamic, I read this one slowly to savor the smart prose. At points, it is actually LOL funny. What a delight. This book made me nostalgic for 2015 — how was that simpler time only 5 years ago? My main takeaway was that this story is ridiculous but, like, aren’t we all? The characters are absurd but (regrettably) relatable. Taking a selfie at a museum? Yup. Bantering over IM at work? Oh yeah. Late night dancing in a dive bar? Well, not during a global pandemic but, man, I wish. While the plot is dynamic, I read this one slowly to savor the smart prose. At points, it is actually LOL funny. If you’re not really into mythology and art, don’t let that stop you: the arty references were fewer than the cover might suggest and, to me, besides the point.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    Relentlessly clever and written with poetic precision, I can't stop thinking about this book. I can't stop talking about this book. Relentlessly clever and written with poetic precision, I can't stop thinking about this book. I can't stop talking about this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Louise Gray

    Oh, I loved this! It’s a clever story with colourful characters and humour I was not expecting. Beautifully written, the language is almost verse-like in its construction. I loved the modern take on a classic but this book really can really earn its own place in the literary world.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I'm so glad I was able to read an advance copy of The Portrait of a Mirror. A clever, insightful, and witty exploration of two well-off East Coast couples whose lives overlap in dramatic, occasionally adulterous ways, this book takes a classic literary fiction scenario and pumps it full of freshness and wit. I was so impressed by the writer's ability to make me feel sympathy for all of her characters, even though I would almost certainly not want to spend more than 10 minutes with most of them in I'm so glad I was able to read an advance copy of The Portrait of a Mirror. A clever, insightful, and witty exploration of two well-off East Coast couples whose lives overlap in dramatic, occasionally adulterous ways, this book takes a classic literary fiction scenario and pumps it full of freshness and wit. I was so impressed by the writer's ability to make me feel sympathy for all of her characters, even though I would almost certainly not want to spend more than 10 minutes with most of them in real life. The narrative voice is both brilliantly poetic and wickedly funny, like your smartest friend is telling you a scandalous story over a boozy brunch. (Side note: shoutout to Eric Hashimoto, my favorite character and new office-life inspiration. May I one day write a professional document as delightful as his.) This was a beautiful book I didn't want to stop reading—you're gonna want to buy it for yourself when it comes out in June!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lookout Farm

    One of the last rules a writer learns is that many of the supposed rules by which writers are supposed to abide are actually shit. At the top of this shit list, for my part, is the classic “show, don’t tell.” The sentiment is honorable enough: “the lights went off and he reached for her hand” is better, sometimes, than “he was afraid of the dark.” But the problem with all rules is their tendency to get too big for their own breeches (britches?), and the much, much bigger problem with this rule, One of the last rules a writer learns is that many of the supposed rules by which writers are supposed to abide are actually shit. At the top of this shit list, for my part, is the classic “show, don’t tell.” The sentiment is honorable enough: “the lights went off and he reached for her hand” is better, sometimes, than “he was afraid of the dark.” But the problem with all rules is their tendency to get too big for their own breeches (britches?), and the much, much bigger problem with this rule, in the “golden” (bronze?) age of television and the smartphone screen, is that it undercuts the very competitive advantage books have over other “showy” mediums which, for now, and probably to our collective detriment, rule the roost. Portrait of a Mirror is, in this sense, a breath of old (and therefore very fresh) air. On the surface, it’s the story of a pair of flawed but deeply human romances—relationships which find their reflections in one another, relationships between well-heeled and image-obsessed people who search for and find their reflections in one another and in the other people in the other relationships…“a reinvention of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners,” in other words, which you’ll get from the book jacket. Stylishly set and filled with smart, breezy dialogue, it might easily have been a Netflix series or a movie. And perhaps one day it will be. But it will always be a book first. And thank the Greek gods for that, because what you won’t get (or won’t get adequately) from the book jacket is Natasha’s ability to have seen and understood what is really happening in each and every familiar moment, her undeniable chops as a qualified physicist of the motions and motivations that make up the invisible quantum mechanics of human relationships…always, in Narcissan fashion, also relationships with ourselves. She might have just “shown” us all this (she does that too), but her ability to talk about it, her ability to tell, makes Portrait of a Mirror a book worth chewing on, like a steak. It’s…well, in an age awash with noise and images without unifying theme or superstructure, in an age when I’m dying for someone to really tell me something meaningful I can latch onto…it’s…nice. I’ll risk going just a little too far. Harold Bloom says there are five criteria by which an author breaks into the Western Canon: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, and exuberance of diction. Five checks? And throw in for good measure some well-done humor and hip hop references that do not feel the slightest bit forced? Of course Natasha will need a long career and some luck to break into Bloom’s little country club. But here’s to hoping she’s already working on her next one ; )

  6. 5 out of 5

    Harley

    This book in 3 words: intelligent, unexpectedly poetic Reminded me of: a modern day Jane Austen for the sheer interaction-focused narrative, but with more pizazz and 2015-induced nostalgic feeling. Framed as a reinvention of the Narcissus myth, this is a novel about two couples: Wes & Diana and Vivian & Dale. Their historic prep-school attendance and some dubious (probably conflict-of-interest-if-you-look-too-closely) overlap in their working lives bring them together in unexpected ways, and the n This book in 3 words: intelligent, unexpectedly poetic Reminded me of: a modern day Jane Austen for the sheer interaction-focused narrative, but with more pizazz and 2015-induced nostalgic feeling. Framed as a reinvention of the Narcissus myth, this is a novel about two couples: Wes & Diana and Vivian & Dale. Their historic prep-school attendance and some dubious (probably conflict-of-interest-if-you-look-too-closely) overlap in their working lives bring them together in unexpected ways, and the novel follows their lives over one summer as things become inexplicably complicated between the four of them. This is a brilliant novel, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s often ridiculous to the point of almost being unbelievable, until Joujovsky roots you back in the real world with something utterly relatable. Her ability to balance the mundane and the unexpected is artful – although at many points during the novel I was thinking ‘As if!’ a la teen-American-movie, at no point did it become so silly I stopped believing in it. The whole scene with the dog was a particularly great example of this – and the way it came back later in the novel was brilliant. Secondly, the characters themselves. They’re exactly the kind of people you find on Instagram and the way they developed throughout the novel toed the line between stereotype and believable humans, again, falling perfectly on the right side of that line. I found myself at times thinking ‘no one actually talks like that’ before reminding myself of people in the real world who do. The novel shines a light on those stereotypes, and perhaps the way in which we shape ourselves so much in the image of others that we forget who we are. But most importantly, the writing. This is a novel which balances intellectual language with the human and the real. It’s almost poetic in places, the choice of words themselves shedding light on the characters in interesting ways. Some of the more ‘pretentious’ language served to place me directly in the world of these sometimes-pretentious characters, again adding a layer of realism to the novel. Overall, I thought it was brilliant. The description in the preview as ‘wickedly funny’ seems about right. This is one I will read again, if only to groan all over again at the delightfully real, uncomfortably awkward social interactions that play out. *Thanks NetGalley & The Overlook Press for allowing me access to this advance read copy!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    [I read an advance digital copy from NetGalley.] I so enjoyed this book. Planning to reread soon. This line from the preview captures it well: "In this wickedly fun debut, A. Natasha Joukovsky crafts an absorbing portrait of modern romance, rousing real sympathy for these flawed characters even as she skewers them." Really liked the story itself, but the writing is what I enjoyed the most; often with highly-acclaimed literature in this style, I appreciate the writing and the craft but find it to b [I read an advance digital copy from NetGalley.] I so enjoyed this book. Planning to reread soon. This line from the preview captures it well: "In this wickedly fun debut, A. Natasha Joukovsky crafts an absorbing portrait of modern romance, rousing real sympathy for these flawed characters even as she skewers them." Really liked the story itself, but the writing is what I enjoyed the most; often with highly-acclaimed literature in this style, I appreciate the writing and the craft but find it to be a bit over the top and end up skimming long descriptions and narratives to get back to the plot. Here, I found myself wanting to save passages every few pages or read out loud to a friend, either because they were laugh-out-loud funny, were genuinely thought-provoking / made me question elements of my own behaviors and relationships, or were just brilliantly descriptive in a way that added to the narrative and not just the page count. Highly recommend Portrait of a Mirror and looking forward to anything else we see from Natasha Joukovsky!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    ”A stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus” written in prose that is somewhat in love with itself. How appropriate! Wes and Diana live in New York, Dale and Vivien in Philadelphia. When both women’s work means they switch cities, you can guess what is going to happen. It all takes place in the worlds of art museums and technology consultancies, where people gather and say things like ”In my view, you can never have too much caviar”. And where people play power games, some of which seemed al ”A stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus” written in prose that is somewhat in love with itself. How appropriate! Wes and Diana live in New York, Dale and Vivien in Philadelphia. When both women’s work means they switch cities, you can guess what is going to happen. It all takes place in the worlds of art museums and technology consultancies, where people gather and say things like ”In my view, you can never have too much caviar”. And where people play power games, some of which seemed all too familiar to me having spent several years of my life working for an IT consultancy. The office repartee is sharp and intelligent. And so is the book. Not a lot happens, really. We follow the story of what happens when Diana goes to Philadelphia and meets Dale, and Vivien goes to New York and meets Wes. Some of it you can probably guess. As the book’s blurb puts it, the two couples’ lives cross and tangle. But you don’t need a lot to happen in a book when there are plenty of other things to keep your interest. Vivien’s exhibition (she’s a curator rather than an artist) in New York brings some fascinating discussion of art into the book. The author herself spent five years working in the art world at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, so we already have the locations and the environment drawn from the author’s own experience. When she writes about art, she does so from a position of understanding. But there seems to be a lot more of the author than just that in this book. She has drawn on her own life (the internet gives us an account of her wedding in The New York Times in which we learn she met her husband at a debating society which is exactly how one of the couples in the book meets), but she has also brought together some of her own key interests. There is an article on the internet by the author which uses the book Anna Karenina to discuss alternative facts (and Donald Trump) and Anna Karenina, the book not the person, features in the novel. On her blog, Joukovsky says ”After Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, where he tracks allusions to whales and cetology, I keep a running list of references to recursion, innovation, mythology, and glamour. And “recursion, innovation, mythology and glamour” would not be a bad summary of The Portrait of a Mirror. Part way though the story, we are reminded by one of the characters of the classic example of recursion where you place two mirrors opposite one another and an infinite series of mirrors appears. Time and time again in this novel we gradually work our way through multiple levels of significance and meaning. The book knows what it is doing and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. Towards the end we read He understood, and she understood; she knew he understood, he knew she understood. He knew she knew he understood, and she knew he knew she knew he understood. They understood each other, perfectly. In fact there are several points where the book is very self aware. One character says that no one ends books with a wedding nowadays, so… I have to acknowledge that I initially struggled with the style of the book. As I said at the start, the text feels a bit like it is in love with itself. But I quickly gave myself a talking to: this is a re-working of the myth of Narcissus, so go with the flow - it would be wrong if the text didn’t love itself a bit. So, yes, there are complicated sentences that take longer to say something than they need to and use words that I had to look up in the dictionary. But, once I settled into it and accepted it as a feature, it became fun. I see from the very few other reviews (on Goodreads) that I can see at the time of writing that not everyone reacted that way and it turned some off the book. I can understand that reaction, but I think I chose fairly quickly to treat it all as part of the “wicked fun” the blurb refers to. Note that several chapters consist of email, instant message etc. transcripts which move the story forward by letting us see the communications between people. These sections are also fun to read. The book is quite American in flavour. I had to Google some of references to American things. I also used Google a fair amount to look up the pictures that are discussed as part of Vivien’s exhibition and to check on some of the mythological characters who are mentioned. You can read the book without doing all that extra work, although I do think looking up the images discussed is worthwhile. There’s also a playlist in an appendix and, on first glance, I have virtually all of it in my iTunes library, so that might be a project for later this evening. My thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anna Kelly

    I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Okay, so, here's the thing: I believe this book will be gobbled up and wholeheartedly CONSUMED among publishing circles, literary critics, and art lovers alike. In fact, it may be one I would well recommend to people I know who fit any of the aforementioned categories. But, to be real, I honestly don't know how to describe the mixed-bag of emotions I felt while reading this. First, the book was much different than I w I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Okay, so, here's the thing: I believe this book will be gobbled up and wholeheartedly CONSUMED among publishing circles, literary critics, and art lovers alike. In fact, it may be one I would well recommend to people I know who fit any of the aforementioned categories. But, to be real, I honestly don't know how to describe the mixed-bag of emotions I felt while reading this. First, the book was much different than I was anticipating. I was not expecting the pretentious-quippy-internal-monologue feel of the writing or the fact that nothing much actually happens in the novel. This book seems like it is intended to mock rich white elites while also managing to feel like it is only relatable or completely understandable BY rich elites. I mean, that in and of itself is a portrait of self-reflection, though maybe not one the author intended. If it was the intent, then there are a lot of people who may not be able to vibe with this story and all its upper-crust references and upper-echelon nuances. I think most of the things that frustrated me with the novel were the exact intent of the author (i.e. the pompousness, etc.) But my response is probably not what the author is hoping to elicit in her readers. The ending was given away halfway through the novel, in a sarcastic comment made between two characters (SPOILER: (view spoiler)[ Dale and Diana saying that it is cliche to end a novel with a wedding which inevitably means the novel will end with Dale and Vivien's wedding), and this pulled me out of the narrative and pulled the plug on my driving need to find out what would happen. You know instinctively that Dale and Vivien will marry and Wes and Diana will stay together. However, I needed to feel a sense of completion, circularity, or SOMETHING with Wes and Diana, but never did. Which led to a further sense of frustration, because if there is no closure on their marriage why should I care about it at all? (hide spoiler)] By no means do I think Joukovsky is a bad writer. On the contrary, she has some interesting things to say about the human condition, and some little revelations the characters had —or the reader has about the characters themselves— were flawless and very well executed. I have no doubts she could become a strong voice in literary circles. Yet, I struggled with the writing. Some sentences or description sequences felt overlong, wordy, or occasionally rambly for the sole purpose of making a witty point. Which, might be fine in a short story format but was grating while reading an entire novel. But again, at certain points in the narrative, I found the writing style to be spot-on and flow easily. I often felt this book suffered from telling and not showing anything that was going on. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It worked for the story Joukovsy was trying to portray, but ultimately I just wanted more. I'm not sure I've ever felt so conflicted about a book. Did I love it? No. Did I hate it? No. Did I feel indifferent towards it?....No? I had strong feelings about the book, I am just still not quite sure how to untangle them. Ultimately, being a lover of Greek myth and art-as-life, life-as-art style stories, I think I set my personal expectations too high for this one.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Krystelle Zuanic

    This book tries really hard to provide scathing social commentary, but I am afraid it stops short of brilliance and ends up tied in its own masturbatory self-loathing. It makes for some sardonic side-smiles, wry glances towards the audience, but in the end it is similar to Easton-Ellis in that it tries so hard to be a piece of literary commentary that it ties itself up in knots. There's archetypal reliance to last the ages in here, and I know of the crowd that it is attempting to lampoon- but le This book tries really hard to provide scathing social commentary, but I am afraid it stops short of brilliance and ends up tied in its own masturbatory self-loathing. It makes for some sardonic side-smiles, wry glances towards the audience, but in the end it is similar to Easton-Ellis in that it tries so hard to be a piece of literary commentary that it ties itself up in knots. There's archetypal reliance to last the ages in here, and I know of the crowd that it is attempting to lampoon- but let's face it, I'm from rural Australia. The nuances of the rich New York elite are barely within my scope of vision, and while I am sure their behaviour is about as reprehensible as it comes, I'm afraid this book made for little of a scrape of the world that I am more familiar with. I am very sure that there are people out there for whom this is the peak of comedic genius- I am not those people. The writing style was also disjointed and strange, attempting to be jarring to further the narrative- but I just could not connect with it. The characters had little impact on me, the events were boring and entrenched in tedium. I do feel that is part of the point- however, perhaps indulging some more social commentary would not have gone amiss too? I found little to like here, but I do appreciate again that it is for a subset of people- hence my two stars.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Brainerd

    Joukovsky's debut is clever, bitingly funny, and yet sensitive and keenly aware of human frailty. Reader, be not deceived, this arch and erudite novel celebrates its flawed and disarming characters, even as Joukovksy arms her bow to bring them to their knees. The mannered prose delighted me, the imagery and reflection evoking a trompe l'oeil ceiling, where the joke is endlessly enjoyed by viewer and author alike. This writer is agile, flitting like Eros from omniscent narration, to email, to Ins Joukovsky's debut is clever, bitingly funny, and yet sensitive and keenly aware of human frailty. Reader, be not deceived, this arch and erudite novel celebrates its flawed and disarming characters, even as Joukovksy arms her bow to bring them to their knees. The mannered prose delighted me, the imagery and reflection evoking a trompe l'oeil ceiling, where the joke is endlessly enjoyed by viewer and author alike. This writer is agile, flitting like Eros from omniscent narration, to email, to Instagram, to interoffice memo. Joukovsky is an author to watch and admire.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I really enjoyed this novel which combines compelling characters, sparkling prose, and a provocative meditation on art. The novel is not pulling punches as it satirizes its main characters who all know of each other (even as they don't necessarily realize how well their partners know each other) and who all came of age in the same cultural milieu (although across several elite institutions). But as entertaining as it is to watch the twisted webs the main characters weave as they deceive each oth I really enjoyed this novel which combines compelling characters, sparkling prose, and a provocative meditation on art. The novel is not pulling punches as it satirizes its main characters who all know of each other (even as they don't necessarily realize how well their partners know each other) and who all came of age in the same cultural milieu (although across several elite institutions). But as entertaining as it is to watch the twisted webs the main characters weave as they deceive each other and themselves, it's the Ovidian backdrop that makes the story so compelling. The myth of Narcissus, in particular, receives particular attention as the reader gets taken through a tour of an exhibition of art inspired by Ovidian myth. The image of museum-goers snapping selfies of themselves reflected in a mirror with one of the paintings in the exhibition really translates the myth into effective modern terms. I also particularly enjoyed the set-piece of the museum reception as reflected through the echo-chamber of social media--it may take a minute to get into the rhythm of reading social media posts, especially in an ebook as compared to in their native apps or (I imagine) in a hard copy of the novel, but the rewards are definitely there. On the whole, this is a funny and smart novel and it was satisfying to me in ways that I can find individually in separate books, but not as often all in the same book. I received a digital copy of this book thanks to NetGalley and the publisher in return for an honest review. My thoughts are my own, and I pre-ordered a hard copy to keep.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joyce Rivera González

    Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy! I think there is a specific audience for this book: wealthy urbanites who can abashedly laugh at the sarcastic tone with which this book makes fun of them. For the rest of us, its tongue-in-cheek-ness simply comes off as unfiltered, somewhat self-aware pretentiousness. I am aware that the purpose of the book is to critique the very narcissism that plagues our society; specifically, a very exclusive sector of society. The voice of the narrat Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy! I think there is a specific audience for this book: wealthy urbanites who can abashedly laugh at the sarcastic tone with which this book makes fun of them. For the rest of us, its tongue-in-cheek-ness simply comes off as unfiltered, somewhat self-aware pretentiousness. I am aware that the purpose of the book is to critique the very narcissism that plagues our society; specifically, a very exclusive sector of society. The voice of the narration may authentically convey this egotism, but sadly, it makes the reading unbearable to me. I could not relate to a single character: as they were supposed to represent Prep School archetypes that I am not familiar with, they come off as cartoons rather than a cynical rendering of "that kid we all knew from prep". This book has a crowd, and I am sure they will enjoy it tremendously. I am just not part of its audience.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    In Portrait of a Mirror, two well educated & equally self involved couples end up in criss/cross relationships by total chance. The author, Natasha Joukovsky, brilliantly sets up the retelling of the myth of Narcissis through these intriguing & very self serving individuals. Diane & Wes are a glamorous married couple who seem to be constantly at odds despite all their seeming professional successes. Vivian & Dale are about to be married but each is clueless about the deception in the other's hea In Portrait of a Mirror, two well educated & equally self involved couples end up in criss/cross relationships by total chance. The author, Natasha Joukovsky, brilliantly sets up the retelling of the myth of Narcissis through these intriguing & very self serving individuals. Diane & Wes are a glamorous married couple who seem to be constantly at odds despite all their seeming professional successes. Vivian & Dale are about to be married but each is clueless about the deception in the other's heart. Circumstances bring one member of each couple together with the opposite partner with mirror imagery beautifully setting up the plot. The author has created a linguistic masterpiece with language that is warp speed & with rapier sharp observations. The four main characters showcase so-called "modern romance" including their individual brilliance, wit & a killer instinct to go for exactly what they think they want in a partner, whether that person is technically available to them or not. All four are overwhelmed by desire for their opposite partner & watching them "go for it" is an exciting read. A standout character is Diana, who like the goddess for whom she is named, is superbly gifted in the hunt of her intended, even though he is another woman's husband. Joukovsky reimagines the Narcissis myth through four well drawn & relatable characters. It was especially pleasurable to experience the repartee between Diana & Dale in the context of the complex Narcissis myth. The author's use of art history & mythology certainly displayed her careful & keen understanding of both, and made this book especially pleasing to read for those of us who enjoy those subjects. Reading this novel sent me directly to Wikipedia for more information, always a plus. The Caravaggio painting on the book cover was a glorious choice! Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. ;

  15. 4 out of 5

    kirabobeera

    3.5* Very captivating and exciting; though this is largely a feeling encompassed by the last third of the book. There were moments (towards the end) where I was holding my breath and hurriedly reading to find out the exact resolution of a situation. I loved the poetic circularity of the book and really found myself sinking into the symbolism and juxtaposition of the characters and their mindsets/personalities. The language of this book is both entirely too complex yet perfectly appropriate for the 3.5* Very captivating and exciting; though this is largely a feeling encompassed by the last third of the book. There were moments (towards the end) where I was holding my breath and hurriedly reading to find out the exact resolution of a situation. I loved the poetic circularity of the book and really found myself sinking into the symbolism and juxtaposition of the characters and their mindsets/personalities. The language of this book is both entirely too complex yet perfectly appropriate for the story. While there were moments where I found myself thinking, "it sounds as though someone just picked up a thesaurus and replaced all of the common words with obscure ones," it didn't necessarily detract or distract from the moment at hand. (But it must also be noted that it didn't necessarily *add* anything either.) However, there were many sentences I found myself reading and re-reading due to the sheer complexity and construction of said sentences. Having to re-read and think hard about exactly what was being said takes you out of the story from time to time and can start to make you feel a little silly about not knowing what's being talked about. This is definitely a book you need to pay attention to; not just for the language, but for the sequence of events that take place. I have to believe that there is more than just a little irony and exaggeration in this story. Largely in the sense that it's all just so crazy, so utterly *un*relateable that it becomes relatable in the general. The characters are so wealthy, so beyond what we would consider ordinary, day-to-day Americans and their problems are exactly what I'd label "rich, white people problems" that it's hard not to laugh at them and their woes (sometimes.) Julian is without a doubt my favourite character (followed closely by Horace, let it be known) and his presence between the lives of both Diana and Wes and Vivien and Dale tie their problems together in a neat little bow. But there is just so much nonsense in the scenarios the couples find themselves in that it's hard to take it seriously at times. Not that the action isn't dramatic and not that there aren't serious moments that have you gripping the book with a sudden fervour—just that it's so easy to have a giggle and think to yourself, "gosh, I wish these were *my* problems!" It's all a bit predictable, but I didn't mind that too much. And the connection to the myth of Narcissus is beautiful and pronounced throughout. Even if you're not too familiar with the myth (as I myself was not) it's a good story on its own. Some of my favourite parts were reading the analyses of the art pieces presented by Vivien on her tours. The depth that Joukovsky goes to to make Vivien a true expert in her field is not lost on the reader. It doesn't feel forced and it doesn't feel as though you're being talked-down-to. It's totally accessible and provides some really beautiful analysis and discussion. I swear I could go on and on about this book—there really is so much to talk about. It's beautifully cyclical and the cut-scene-esque writing of the last parts of the book are absolutely brilliant. As much as I got frustrated by the word choice at times, I can't deny that it is a well-constructed and elegantly planned story. Everything fits neatly together and works regardless of where in the story you are. Pieces start falling into place just so and it's really wonderfully done. If nothing else, skipping back to predictability for a moment, I wish that there were deeper connections between Vivien and Diana and Dale and Wes. I understand that each of them sees themselves in the other's partner (Wes to Vivien and Diana to Dale, even though the partnerships are Wes and Diana and Vivien and Dale) and sees also what they cannot have because of what they already have. It's agonisingly yet elegantly orchestrated—but I wish that the women had each seen themselves in the other and the same for the men. To have Diana and Vivien challenge one another intellectually, to be shocked by the other's whit and intelligence and charm, would have been more striking. The same for Wes and Dale—for them to have been challenged by the other's materialism and drive, to have seen what they each had (materially) and to feel confronted yet undermined and then given a need to prove themselves the better. That's all to say that it felt a bit on the marks of most stories that involve people falling in love with another's husband/wife/partner. Again revisiting the point of being able to relate to the story, it was just...not relatable? To look at these characters, all of whom are rich, successful, and well-to-do, and to have their biggest problems be a lack of communication and adultery—? I wish I had those problems. However, it must be said that Joukovsky creates the myth of Narcissus within these issues incredibly well. Just because it's a familiar trope doesn't mean it's bad. And just because I can't relate to being exorbitantly wealthy and living in million-dollar-homes doesn't mean I don't want to read about it. It just adds an extra layer that the reader has to peel back; this can be good or bad, depending on how many layers a story has. Overall, would recommend this to readers who enjoy the writing style of Donna Tartt. Obviously not the same content or focus as Tartt's novels, but the same level of complexity in language and sentence structure. I'm deeply in love with the mythology and writers taking the time to modernise ancient myths (like that of Narcissus.) A good read, and something that I would recommend to those who want to really read a book and look past its surface. Beautifully cyclical and fervent—you're only ever one page away from potential disaster, and it's the balance on that fulcrum that keeps the story going.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eule Luftschloss

    dnf after 30 pages Yes, sure, I did not get far. And I am not having the best day with arcs. This is a retelling of Narcissus from Greek mythology, the guy who was so enamored with his own reflection that he drowned after trying to kiss it. In a very meta way, I can see how the writing fits this theme, and I get the portrayal of a cold, distant but seemingly perfect and sooo handsome man as narcissus. Our protagonist comes from money but he has none at the moment, all that's to his name he has wo dnf after 30 pages Yes, sure, I did not get far. And I am not having the best day with arcs. This is a retelling of Narcissus from Greek mythology, the guy who was so enamored with his own reflection that he drowned after trying to kiss it. In a very meta way, I can see how the writing fits this theme, and I get the portrayal of a cold, distant but seemingly perfect and sooo handsome man as narcissus. Our protagonist comes from money but he has none at the moment, all that's to his name he has worked himself for, so you can't really fault him for his name. Let's forget what kind of upbringing money can give and what kind of advantages come with this. He hates his wife but loves the drama so he doesn't divorce. He is so competent but confuses time to get up with time to be at an event. His flaws get mentioned to show oh yes, he has them, but are destructed with the next breath. The author uses words with many, many syllables and write so pretentiously that after each sentence, I feel like they are turning to me to gauge my reaction, see how they done, want me to tell them how clever they are. I love play with language. Gormenghast is one of my favourite books of all time. But in this, it only looks obnoxious and as I said, I am sure it ties in neatly with the theme. But it's nothing I want to read for as long as 200 pages, because the verb I'd be using for that would be to endure, not to enjoy. From what I saw from the other reviews, again, this one is polarizing: You love it or you hate it. So I'd recommend that if the plot sounds appealing to you and I haven't turned you away, that you go and search for an excerpt and look for yourself. The arc was provided by the publisher.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kyle OConnor

    For me, “Portrait” had all the hallmarks of a great book: I stayed up way too late because I couldn’t put it down, and every few pages I would re-read a line because it was so perfectly written. At first glance, the characters themselves aren’t the most relatable – and in fact they may be the kind of people you’re inclined to hate. But Joukovsky’s skill lies in her ability to infuse an ultra-elite cast with deeply human flaws, impulses, and desires and weave them together into a story that is bot For me, “Portrait” had all the hallmarks of a great book: I stayed up way too late because I couldn’t put it down, and every few pages I would re-read a line because it was so perfectly written. At first glance, the characters themselves aren’t the most relatable – and in fact they may be the kind of people you’re inclined to hate. But Joukovsky’s skill lies in her ability to infuse an ultra-elite cast with deeply human flaws, impulses, and desires and weave them together into a story that is both patently absurd and completely believable. If you’re an art history buff or a member of the 0.001%, you’ll likely appreciate layers of this book that I didn’t. But no matter what you'll be pulled along, tempted to sneak in an extra chapter or two in before turning off the light.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sophia Steiner

    Insane Read my full review here: https://www.aimawaymessage.online/blo... <3 Insane Read my full review here: https://www.aimawaymessage.online/blo... <3

  19. 5 out of 5

    H

    An immensely erudite talent; a mature book considering it is a first attempt. Joukovsky has deep incite into describing the human condition. This is one writer to watch.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kiersten

    I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I had very mixed feelings about this book - after a couple false starts, I nearly gave up in the first chapter. The writing is overwrought, vocabulary a bit pretentious. I couldn't decide if it was for literary effect, or to impress the reader, though it got a bit tedious using the Kindle lookup feature. Not sure I'll ever read a book again that uses "sartorial" and "inchoate" multiple times. I skimmed a good portion I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I had very mixed feelings about this book - after a couple false starts, I nearly gave up in the first chapter. The writing is overwrought, vocabulary a bit pretentious. I couldn't decide if it was for literary effect, or to impress the reader, though it got a bit tedious using the Kindle lookup feature. Not sure I'll ever read a book again that uses "sartorial" and "inchoate" multiple times. I skimmed a good portion of the last 15% of the novel, as it went far too deep into bringing the running mythology theme than I needed or wanted to go. However, once I got going - despite the complete unlikeability of the four main characters, I devoured this book, and had to find out what bad decisions were going to happen next. It was always a treat when secondary characters Julian and Eric made their appearances to lighten the mood - would love to see a spin-off on either one of them. Once released, I predict this will be a love or hate book, and quite probably optioned for a mini-series. I'd watch it. For readers who have not tired of novels about privileged young white New Yorkers (or for a little twist, Philadelphians), and love a character-driven novel, this is for you.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    The Portrait of a Mirror is truly a work of art. The prose is so clever and offers thought-provoking commentary on our (somewhat present day) society. A must read!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Valentin

    I fell in love with this book. It had everything I wanted. And it was beautifully written. Every word inviting you to read the next! It was truly hypnotizing!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    The Narcissus myth reinvented in New York's elite. Two beautiful-and-they-know-it couples' charmed lives get messy when their paths cross during the summer of 2015. Joukovsky's writing is witty and clever, with a finely-tuned sense of the absurd. Her use of aposiopeses* (the device of suddenly breaking off in speech) during the VIP rooftop party is a tour de force of literary juxtaposition. *By way of explanation, the word 'aposiopesis' (sing.) appears in the novel. The fine art descriptions are e The Narcissus myth reinvented in New York's elite. Two beautiful-and-they-know-it couples' charmed lives get messy when their paths cross during the summer of 2015. Joukovsky's writing is witty and clever, with a finely-tuned sense of the absurd. Her use of aposiopeses* (the device of suddenly breaking off in speech) during the VIP rooftop party is a tour de force of literary juxtaposition. *By way of explanation, the word 'aposiopesis' (sing.) appears in the novel. The fine art descriptions are erudite, never overbearing, and reflect the myth and the plot. It is worth reading the appendices. So much cleverness and erudition can be grating. The midway point, in particular, suffers from this affliction. The Portrait of a Mirror has a satirical style reminiscent of the early novels of Evelyn Waugh. I can see this novel adapting well to film/TV. My thanks to NetGalley and publisher Abrams for the ARC.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Matous

    Engaging with Portrait is the closest thing you'll experience during a pandemic to wondering through the gardens of Paris before getting day drunk and meandering through Musée d'Orsay before a dinner with a romantic partner who turns out to be as sultry as she is a witty conversationalist over champagne brunch the next morning. Engaging with Portrait is the closest thing you'll experience during a pandemic to wondering through the gardens of Paris before getting day drunk and meandering through Musée d'Orsay before a dinner with a romantic partner who turns out to be as sultry as she is a witty conversationalist over champagne brunch the next morning.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Book

    Reading books about the powerful and well-heeled can be quite tiresome. The authors invariably want to show how monstrous the rich are, show the limits of hedonism, or, god forbid, make some belabored point about class in America that leaves the story dry and pockmarked. This book, however, succeeds where so many others have failed. The main characters are flawed, yes, creatures of their ambitious environments. But, more importantly they are complex, smart, greedy, conniving, lustful, cynical, a Reading books about the powerful and well-heeled can be quite tiresome. The authors invariably want to show how monstrous the rich are, show the limits of hedonism, or, god forbid, make some belabored point about class in America that leaves the story dry and pockmarked. This book, however, succeeds where so many others have failed. The main characters are flawed, yes, creatures of their ambitious environments. But, more importantly they are complex, smart, greedy, conniving, lustful, cynical, and calculating. We crave love as a competition—just check out the last 100 reality shows produced—but this smuggles that craving into a novel, set among the most ruthless class in America. That is, young, dumb, and full of come, but also with extravagant money and taste. The writing is fantastic, each phrase and characterization sharpened to a dazzling point. No human quirk or behavior is safe from Joukovsky. Her ability to break down the modern dating habits and power moves we all employ is breathtaking, a sharp jab to the diaphragm. I tired of the laborious descriptions of every outfit that showed up, but I never doubted the accuracy. It’s Gatsby, it’s American Psycho, it’s all those HBO shows that fall apart after the second season. But it’s so much more too. The structure of this novel did leave me a little wanting. Joukovsky tends to serve us long blocks of paragraphs, investigating motives and power dynamics, as if daring the reader to skim ahead to the next section. We alternate these thorough dissections of character motivations with dialogue or scene, a welcome change, but not enough to fully offset the slow pacing in parts. The last quarter of the book, however, is worth the wait, a delectable denouement of comeuppance. Listen to full reviews here

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Summary: The Portrait of a Mirror is based on the myth of Narcissus and takes place between two young couples whose lives cross paths over one summer. Thoughts:A 3.5 star read for me. I believe the author has set out to make the characters in this story caricatures - a stereotype of privileged, self-involved, wealthy, beautiful and therefore ultimately completely unrelatable people. I don't think as readers we are supposed to relate to the protagonists, though perhaps we are supposed to see parts Summary: The Portrait of a Mirror is based on the myth of Narcissus and takes place between two young couples whose lives cross paths over one summer. Thoughts:A 3.5 star read for me. I believe the author has set out to make the characters in this story caricatures - a stereotype of privileged, self-involved, wealthy, beautiful and therefore ultimately completely unrelatable people. I don't think as readers we are supposed to relate to the protagonists, though perhaps we are supposed to see parts of ourselves reflected in them. I believe we are supposed to see them as a little ridiculous rather than sympathise with them. If this is the case, I think the book completely achieves what it sets out to do. The writing reminded me of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch - not that the plot is anything alike, but it was more the type of characters along with the writing style itself; intelligent, embellished, complex. I liked how humour was woven into this and did find the dialogue believable - even if I didn't like the characters, I could visualise them. The outcome is a little predictable, but I don't think the purpose was to give any surprises. As a character-driven story, it's all about the journey and unravelling the events of the summer. A criticism is that I didn't feel the mixed media type of entries (the emails, Instagram comments, etc) added anything to the story. I ended up skim reading these sections and don't feel that I missed anything as a result - these sections do add a bit of exposition, but not enough to be vital in my opinion. Maybe if I had read a physical copy where the layout was a bit clearer I would've taken more time to read these parts. Overall a clever and thought-provoking book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Kelly

    Thanks to Netgalley & The Overlook Press for a review copy! *3.5 stars The Portrait of a Mirror is, in its best moments, a satirical millennial rom-com with all the trappings of a Shakespearean comedy. The book is a re-imagining of the Greek myth of Narcissus, the boy who fell in love with his own reflection and subsequently perished because he couldn't bear to look away. Fittingly, the main characters are all extraordinarily wrapped up in their own narcissism (a commentary on a certain type of mi Thanks to Netgalley & The Overlook Press for a review copy! *3.5 stars The Portrait of a Mirror is, in its best moments, a satirical millennial rom-com with all the trappings of a Shakespearean comedy. The book is a re-imagining of the Greek myth of Narcissus, the boy who fell in love with his own reflection and subsequently perished because he couldn't bear to look away. Fittingly, the main characters are all extraordinarily wrapped up in their own narcissism (a commentary on a certain type of millennial: white, heterosexual, upper-class city dwellers). Though Joukovsky's prose is self-consciously pretentious, it occasionally comes across as overwrought and even tedious as characters repeatedly soliloquize over their internal agonies. The narration of the book was, additionally, a little discordant: jumping from one character to another, then suddenly to an omniscient narrator, then to various pieces of media (email conversations, physical mail, and Instagram comments, for a few examples). The ending of the book was predictable, which, within the genre, is not a deal-breaker. However, it did seem to drag on for a few more chapters than was entirely necessary. The overall effect of the book was, in my opinion, a little hectic and overambitious. Nonetheless, enough of it was enjoyable to finish reading it, and I will likely be mulling over the apt application of Greek mythology to New York's elite for the next few days.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Please visit my book blog https://cavebookreviews.blogspot.com/. A. Natasha Joukovsky has dished up a hysterical novel about perfect people and their interesting private lives. Diane and Wes and Vivien and Dale are two couples hailing from the one percent of American society. The four youngsters went to the best prep schools, colleges and now work in the best jobs. Their profiles are the envy of many of us who believe in the USA's upward trajectory of life. Behind the scenes, of course, not all i Please visit my book blog https://cavebookreviews.blogspot.com/. A. Natasha Joukovsky has dished up a hysterical novel about perfect people and their interesting private lives. Diane and Wes and Vivien and Dale are two couples hailing from the one percent of American society. The four youngsters went to the best prep schools, colleges and now work in the best jobs. Their profiles are the envy of many of us who believe in the USA's upward trajectory of life. Behind the scenes, of course, not all is perfect. Wes and Diane live in a loft that seems to irritate them, not comfy but big and empty. Dale and Vivien are planning their country club wedding for the coming summer. The affair will be perfect, that goes without saying in Vivien's mind. Things begin to get crazy when New York Diane goes to Philadelphia for a consulting job, and Philadelphia Vivien goes to New York to curate an exhibit at the Met. Vivien's exhibition involves paintings of Narcissus. An excellent image of him serves as the cover of the book. This funny story gives plenty of details on the superficiality of the rich kids' lives and brilliant insights into their relationships and unhappy souls. Narcissus serves as a perfect symbol in this great story. If you like to watch the mighty stumble, this is the book for you. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this e-ARC.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alison Hardtmann

    This novel centers on two beautiful, expensively educated couples and what happens when they fall for each other's partners. Gorgeous Wes Range, whose ownership of an of-the-moment tech company befits his upbringing, is married to Diana, an equally beautiful and high-powered management consultant. Things are stale, they tend to annoy each other more than they delight each other, but there's no question they look good together and share the same values, which is to say, they know the right place This novel centers on two beautiful, expensively educated couples and what happens when they fall for each other's partners. Gorgeous Wes Range, whose ownership of an of-the-moment tech company befits his upbringing, is married to Diana, an equally beautiful and high-powered management consultant. Things are stale, they tend to annoy each other more than they delight each other, but there's no question they look good together and share the same values, which is to say, they know the right place to be seen skiing or own a third home. While on an exclusive tour of a new exhibition at the Met, Wes sees Vivien, who attended the same expensive school he did, and parlayed her money and connections into an enviable position as a curator. He had had a crush on her in school, and now she's even more gorgeous than before. Meanwhile, his wife is sent to Philadelphia, where she is partnered with Dale on a high-profile project. Dale is engaged to Vivien, but it doesn't take long before he is smitten with Diana. It is, of course, perfectly fine to write about rich, beautiful, successful people who have everything. It is, however, a lot more difficult to make the reader care about their tender feelings and inner pain. But the author isn't asking us to empathize, or even get to know her characters. She's mocking them even as she's lovingly describing their every meal, their every shopping trip, their every perfectly insouciant outfit, painstakingly put together to imply carelessness. With the exception of far too many Linked In profiles, emails and text messages, this novel was well-written, but the humor often felt forced. Still, this will be fun for those who like to watch rich people being made fun of as they blithely continue with their lives as wealthy, beautiful, expensively educated people with connections and easy success.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway, and wanted to first say thank you to Goodreads and the author and publisher of the book for sending me a copy. The story and characters of this book were pretty good. My main issue with enjoying the book was how intellectual it felt and how confused and out of my depth I tended to be while reading it. I consider myself a fairly intelligent, college-educated person, but I don't have a significant background in finance, technology, business, English langua I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway, and wanted to first say thank you to Goodreads and the author and publisher of the book for sending me a copy. The story and characters of this book were pretty good. My main issue with enjoying the book was how intellectual it felt and how confused and out of my depth I tended to be while reading it. I consider myself a fairly intelligent, college-educated person, but I don't have a significant background in finance, technology, business, English language, classic literature, or art history, and I often felt quite outmatched by the language and references in the book. There's a sizeable bit of tech/business/finance lingo near the beginning that put me off, and a lot of references to other material I've never read and celebrities or pop-culture I've never heard of. Which is all to say, one can read and enjoy the story without knowing any of that, but I felt that it was written with the expectation that the reader would know what they were talking about, and I didn't, so I'm sure I missed a good bit of the humor and cleverness that must've been carefully worked in. And while I could've stopped and looked up everything, that's just not what makes reading a book enjoyable to me.

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