Julie Keys – The Artist’s Portrait

Hachette Australia 2019

This debut novel by Julie Keys was shortlisted for the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a work of historical fiction, an absorbing and fast moving story that waltzes elegantly between the past in the 1920s and the recent past of the 1990s.

First and foremost this is a story of secrets and the murky world of the Bohemian Sydney art world. Artist Muriel Kemp steps into the present however, despite having been reported dead in 1936, and meets her biographer in Jane Cooper, newly pregnant and suffering from morning sickness. What follows is both a fascinating story of the untangling of truth from fiction and the development of a strange but important relationship between two women from different times and places.

Barbie talks with Julie Keys

Muriel Kemp is after all an unreliable witness for her own story and it falls to Jane to take us with her in her reaches to find out who the real Muriel is and what it is about her passionate art, so much ahead of its time, that is also important to us. In her story we find the story of the struggle of women in general for recognition in arenas jealousy guarded by men and ‘the establishment’.

Julie Keys writes as powerfully as the story she tells. This is one of those ‘can’t put it down’ books which readers so crave. She deftly evokes both the time and place of 1920s inner Sydney city and perfectly creates the voices of both of her main female characters, along with their supporting cast.

One can hardly wait for the next of her works.