Named after the 17th-century artist, Artemisia Talbot jumps at the chance for an assignment in Paris to collaborate with musicologist and writer Matthew Pierce on an article celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Frederick Chopin. In a combination historical novel and romantic thriller that moves from New York to Paris to Warsaw, it is difficult to decide whether the star is Chopin or Artemisia.
Chopin is the putative focus, as evidenced in the discovery of a diary written by his near-fiancť, the daughter of a wealthy and influential family who is encouraged by her parents to turn down Chopinís suit. Chapters exploring Chopinís relationships and the creation of his nocturnes are interspersed with the real-time experiences of Artemisia as she discovers Chopinís world: his last apartment, the estate of the writer George Sand, his lover, and the sights of Paris as seen through the eyes of a young woman in love.
The fly in the ointment is Clifton Steele, Artemisiaís former boyfriend, who has been stalking her since their breakup, even now appearing in Paris and Warsaw with mayhem on his mind and obsession in his heart. Events happen quickly - a new romance with Matthew Pierce, the notes from Clifton that follow Artemisia wherever she goes, the estate where George Sand, a significant influence in Chopinís life, wrote her novels, Matthewís increasingly debilitating headaches, and Artemisiaís romantic confusion.
An accomplished woman, Artemisia loses all sense of proportion when it comes to trusting her feelings in relationships, whether waffling with crazy Clifton or her ambivalence about Matthew - after the fact, since they have already consummated the act. While the author sets the action in Chopinís territory, his apartment, a brokered diary that may be the authentic words of Chopinís almost-fiancť and the haunting music of the composer, there is a darker psycho-sexual component to this novel that is disconcerting.
Pursued by three men, one an Italian massage therapist who makes overtures to Artemisia, the protagonist seems incapable of resisting her impulses, oblivious to her own beauty and its effect on men. Artemisia often appears the pawn of the authorís sexual fantasies, one scene in poor taste considering the length and character development of this small novel. The confusing psychology of Slaterís characters bleeds into Chopinís story. Is this an historical novel or a dark romantic thriller? The romantic triangle that ends in tragedy leaves me uncomfortable - too much too soon, given the length and plotline of the story.
Thankfully, Chopinís nocturnes are mentioned frequently throughout the story, suggesting the tenor of scenes and adding to the ambiance of Chopinís beloved Paris, the haunting melodies that have transfixed audiences, a true genius with an enduring gift to the world.