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Behind the ornate doors of 30, rue du Métal in Brussels, twenty students begin their apprenticeship in the art of decorative painting – that art of tricksters and counterfeiters, where each knot in a plank of wood hides a secret and every vein in a slab of marble tells a story.

Among these students are Kate, Jonas and Paula Karst. Together, during a relentless year of study, they will learn the techniques of reproducing materials in paint, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, and the intensity of their experience – the long hours in the studio, the late nights, the conversations, arguments, parties, romances – will cement a friendship that lasts long after their formal studies end.

For Paula, her initiation into the art of trompe l’œil will take her back through time, from her own childhood memories, to the ancient formations of the materials whose depiction she strives to master. And from the institute in Brussels where her studies begin, to her work on the film sets of Cinecittà, and finally the caves of Lascaux, her experiences will transcend art, gradually revealing something of her own inner world, and the secret, unspoken, unreachable desires of her heart.

A coming-of-age novel like no other: an atmospheric and highly aesthetic portrayal of love, art and craftsmanship from the acclaimed author of Birth of a Bridge and Mend the Living.


Always brilliant, executed in flowing, lyrical prose that had already reached the firmament in [Mend the Living] . . . De Kerangal finds fiction in reality; precise, technical vocabulary is imbued with rich imagination and meaning. And mastering trompe-l'œil - isn't that the ideal metaphor for the work of a novelist?
Frédérique Roussel, Libération
The art of painting in perfect harmony with de Kerangal's writing; visual, flamboyant, assured . . . in perfect alignment with her subject
Marine Landrot, Télérama
Intensely alive, encompassing both the technical and the poetic, emotion and cerebrality
Raphaëlle Leyris, Le Monde
Kerangal's elegant, sexy, subtly Proustian, and fluidly dimensional drama of discipline and passion, imitation and imagination is resplendently evocative and exhilarating.
Donna Seaman, Booklist