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The Portrait of a Mirror

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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. 4 out of 5

    Book Clubbed,

    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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 4 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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 ; )

  7. 4 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

    There were parts of this novel I really liked. It starts well, I enjoyed the art exhibition sections and some of the humour. The dialogue is mostly well done, but the main characters are so unlikeable. Which is the point of course, they’re a bunch of rich, elitist narcissists. I seemed to get bogged down in the middle of the book until it returned to the Art and Myth stuff again, where all four of the main characters are finally brought together. Then the last two chapters were redundant. So it’ There were parts of this novel I really liked. It starts well, I enjoyed the art exhibition sections and some of the humour. The dialogue is mostly well done, but the main characters are so unlikeable. Which is the point of course, they’re a bunch of rich, elitist narcissists. I seemed to get bogged down in the middle of the book until it returned to the Art and Myth stuff again, where all four of the main characters are finally brought together. Then the last two chapters were redundant. So it’s clever and entertaining but ultimately a bit disappointing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    A gorgeous mess of words, bursting with adjectives I haven’t encountered since the days of weekly vocabulary quizzes in high school. The overall effect is a novel that’s in love with itself and words and literature, probably not accidental seeing as the story repackages the myth of Narcissus into a modern day love quadrangle. Dense and funny, The Portrait of a Mirror will appeal to a certain social set: the management consultants; the tech bros who read something other than Jeff Bezos biographies A gorgeous mess of words, bursting with adjectives I haven’t encountered since the days of weekly vocabulary quizzes in high school. The overall effect is a novel that’s in love with itself and words and literature, probably not accidental seeing as the story repackages the myth of Narcissus into a modern day love quadrangle. Dense and funny, The Portrait of a Mirror will appeal to a certain social set: the management consultants; the tech bros who read something other than Jeff Bezos biographies; the museum membership pass-holders; and anyone with property in the Hamptons or other exclusive Eastern coastal enclave. I worry, however, that readers will think they’re laughing at the narcissistic protagonists while in fact they are laughing along with them because alas, the social critique here could not even cut through butter. Far of satirizing the ego and foibles of this class, Joukovsky’s writing plumps them up, lionizes them even. I wanted a little more bite in this canapé of a novel covered in caviar.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    A.

    I love this novel more than Narcissus loves himself, and hope you will too!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Krystelle Fitzpatrick

    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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    kyle

    very smart and fun! all i have to say!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stacia

    Well, it seems pretentious & tedious, which is probably *exactly* what it should be since it's a reworking of the story of Narcissus. I can see the appeal for certain readers, but I don't want to wade through it. Well, it seems pretentious & tedious, which is probably *exactly* what it should be since it's a reworking of the story of Narcissus. I can see the appeal for certain readers, but I don't want to wade through it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

    6/6/2021 Absurdly intelligent, painfully relatable. Full review tk at TheFrumiousConsortium.net. 6/7/2021 As someone who cherishes the idea of eventually writing fiction professionally one day, it is 100% infuriating to read books like this, books so elegant, so intelligent, so perfect and modern that it makes any effort I could possibly make feel superfluous. Having a healthy ego, I will get over my sheer envy in days, but the impact otherwise of The Portrait Of A Mirror will last for far, far l 6/6/2021 Absurdly intelligent, painfully relatable. Full review tk at TheFrumiousConsortium.net. 6/7/2021 As someone who cherishes the idea of eventually writing fiction professionally one day, it is 100% infuriating to read books like this, books so elegant, so intelligent, so perfect and modern that it makes any effort I could possibly make feel superfluous. Having a healthy ego, I will get over my sheer envy in days, but the impact otherwise of The Portrait Of A Mirror will last for far, far longer. TPoaM revolves around four people: Diana Whalen who is married to Wes Range who went to school with Vivien Floris who is engaged to Dale McBride who works with Diana. Gorgeous, intelligent and privileged, if not outright wealthy, the paths of all four cross and re-cross as they fall in and out of love in variations on the myth of Narcissus, with the narrative and themes looping and unfolding in exquisite plays on recursion and pop culture and love. Told in vivid, droll prose reminiscent of (yeah, I'm gonna say it) Jane Austen, interspersed with text message exchanges, corporate memos and other modern communiques, this comedy of manners absolutely slaughters its contemporaries as it dives into the psyches of all four of its main characters, examining their flaws and culpability with an unerring eye that had me shifting uncomfortably in my own seat as I felt seen and judged and, ultimately, forgiven. And here's the thing, there are going to be plenty of people who read this book and don't get it or don't like it, because it's a novel about complicated white people who don't have to worry about much more than their own feelings, but the way A Natasha Joukovsky writes about these people not only plunges us deep into their beings but also calls to the complicated feelings we all have about love and self-love and long-term love and long-lost love. She does this while eschewing cliche in favor of an unvarnished truth, which could make for dire reading, yet leavens it all with a clear-eyed empathy for and kindness to both her characters and readers alike. But it's not all just feelings: TPoaM is a novel as astonishingly clever and devastatingly charming as its protagonists, leaping nimbly from deep dives into art history and computer science and classic literature to tell silly jokes at its own expense and make sly references to its plentiful influences and antecedents. It is a deeply intelligent book that is fully connected to life in the 21st century, tho it is cannily set in 2015, a time when America was lulled into believing that grownups ran our politics and that we kept getting better as a people, so could absorb ourselves wholly in our selves. In pursuit of an escape into life pre-45, please do browse the book's Insta page @IMetOvidsHeirs and listen to the excellent Spotify playlist to immerse yourself even more fully in the world of this wonderful debut. Anyway, I'm still wildly jealous of her for writing this magnificent novel but also want to be her friend? We all have books that elicit those feelings, I imagine. The Portrait Of A Mirror by A Natasha Joukovsky was published June 1 2021 by The Overlook Press and is available from all good booksellers, including Bookshop!.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Allison Riding

    A brilliant reinvention of the myth of Narcissus set in modern times about two couples with intertwined lives over the course of a summer. Her writing was razor sharp witty and the subtle nods to mythology felt like Easter eggs. Especially fun to read on the train headed up to NYC as the novel takes place mostly in New York and Philly. Greek Girl Summer continues!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    3.5 stars I can't quite make up my mind about this book! The writing is certainly very accomplished, with the kind of wry, matter-of-fact omniscience that wouldn't be out of place in a Victorian marriage plot novel by Henry James. (Though I maintain that there's a certain impossibility of transporting the marriage plot novel into 21st century American settings in a satisfactory way. Our material conditions are generally too far removed from the kinds of social and financial constraints that the V 3.5 stars I can't quite make up my mind about this book! The writing is certainly very accomplished, with the kind of wry, matter-of-fact omniscience that wouldn't be out of place in a Victorian marriage plot novel by Henry James. (Though I maintain that there's a certain impossibility of transporting the marriage plot novel into 21st century American settings in a satisfactory way. Our material conditions are generally too far removed from the kinds of social and financial constraints that the Victorians were critiquing in their marriage plot books.) And Joukovsky's own academic background in art history and the world of museums comes through sharply in the extended scenes of Vivien's curated exhibit at the Met. Her ekphrastic lectures are convincing in their intelligence, quite unlike other novels where a character is sketched as brilliant in their field but the on-page depictions of said brilliance fall very flat or into 101 level-style "insights." At the same time, there were moments when the narrative felt a little too impressed with itself (a chapter that intercuts multiple scenes of people speaking in different parts of a museum, with dialogue feeding seamlessly from one group to the next, comes to mind; also, obtrusive mixed media storytelling feels a bit tired to me in this the year of our Lord 2021?) and the quartet of main characters never becomes as fully realized as several (delightful) secondary characters. But on the other hand, I kept wondering if that was part of the trick, too. Of course a retelling of the Narcissus myth would need to deploy stylistic "look at me" flourishes, despite (or maybe because of???) a lack of any true depth behind those flourishes, right? Maybe? Perhaps a portion of my own complicated reaction here is that I could never quite put my finger on if the novel was attempting cleverness and falling flat at times, or if I as the reader was supposed to notice that flatness and understand it as part of the joke. In other words, was I looking into a mirror that was actually a pool with hidden depths, or just a hall of mirrors that mimicked depth but was in fact all surface? And does the fact that I am still thinking about this, still lingering on the book and my reactions to it, mean that I've fallen into Joukovsky's (and Narcissus') trap?

  22. 4 out of 5

    talia ♡

    depression and school may be kicking my ass but Netgalley is giving me reasons to keep on living!! thank you Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book, i am so excited for this debut!!

  23. 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.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Avalon

    The Portrait of a Mirror is a study in relationships. It’s an exploration of how everyone is a mirror. And when we fall in love with someone, we are actually falling in love with ourselves. We are projecting our own inner divinity onto them, to our detriment. How do we overcome this? By recognizing the other person for who they truly are, rather than venerating them as a kind of godlike version of ourselves. "It was when Diana was at her most artless, when the unattractive realities of her human The Portrait of a Mirror is a study in relationships. It’s an exploration of how everyone is a mirror. And when we fall in love with someone, we are actually falling in love with ourselves. We are projecting our own inner divinity onto them, to our detriment. How do we overcome this? By recognizing the other person for who they truly are, rather than venerating them as a kind of godlike version of ourselves. "It was when Diana was at her most artless, when the unattractive realities of her humanness seeped to the surface, that Dale was most inclined to deify her in symbolic worship." The story itself is about two wealthy couples from the right side of the tracks. You know the kind- those privileged elites that summer in Nantucket and own 3-5 houses and have their weddings featured in the New York Times and eat fast food to be ironic. It’s about the juxtaposition between the facade and reality. How you can appear to ‘have it all,’ and yet be miserable on the inside. Wes and Diana, Dale and Vivien are the quintessential example of this. They are the creme de la creme, the envy of of their social circles, living the American dream (and then some!). And yet they are overcome with grass is greener syndrome in the relationship department; prime candidates for the hit reality tv show, Wife Swap. The Portrait of a Mirror is quite possibly the most pretentious book I’ve ever read. And this is coming from someone who has a very high threshold for ostentation. I certainly wouldn’t say that it detracts from the experience. In fact, I believe that pretentiousness is one of the book’s defining characteristics. It’s a stylistic choice that suits the characters and establishes Joukovsky as an expert, someone who has dipped her toes in that glamorous upper crust social strata and therefore is well-equipped to navigate us through it. The prose is witty, challenging and scintillating. It demands that the reader keep up. I admire the fact that even though this book is character-driven (which I love), it still manages to proceed with purpose, anchored to a plot, building in intensity and excitement as it approaches the grand finale. On a side note, I absolutely adored Julian Pappas-Fidicia. He is haughty, flamboyant and hilarious and I wish we were best friends in real life! If I had any criticism to give, it would be that some of the sections describing Wes and Diana’s work seemed unnecessarily long and would benefit from a little editing. I found my attention wandering during those scenes and they weren’t (in my mind at least) pivotal to the movement of the story. The Portrait of a Mirror is an ideal choice for readers that enjoy character-driven contemporary fiction with snappy dialogue and romantic entanglements set against the stylish backdrop of New York City's art scene. This is an impressive debut novel and I look forward to seeing what Joukovsky has in store for us in the future.

  25. 4 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.

  26. 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!

  27. 5 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.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas DiDomizio

    So lucky to have gotten an early read of this genius debut novel — a comedy of manners about the casual everyday narcissism of two picture-perfect (but secretly messy AF) young couples in 2015 NYC. Every page is packed with razor-sharp wit, observation, and insight — I often found myself rereading sentences multiple times because they conveyed a sentiment I've thought a million times but never could have articulated so perfectly. (DON'T YOU LOVE WHEN THAT HAPPENS WHILE READING?!) This is literar So lucky to have gotten an early read of this genius debut novel — a comedy of manners about the casual everyday narcissism of two picture-perfect (but secretly messy AF) young couples in 2015 NYC. Every page is packed with razor-sharp wit, observation, and insight — I often found myself rereading sentences multiple times because they conveyed a sentiment I've thought a million times but never could have articulated so perfectly. (DON'T YOU LOVE WHEN THAT HAPPENS WHILE READING?!) This is literary fiction with a fine artsy backdrop, but it's addictively readable and seamlessly incorporates pop culture references to everything from Taylor Swift to Shaggy to the 1994 film Little Women starring Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst (the definitive and most iconic LW adaptation)!! I could go on and on, but honestly just trust me and PREORDER this gem of a book which comes out 6/1/21!!!

  29. 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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan G 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!

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