The Center of the World, by Thomas Van Essen


The Center of the World

By Thomas Van Essen

The Other Press, 2013

375 pages

Four interlocking stories chronicle the fate of a fictional J. M. W. Turner painting called The Center of the World. Charles Grant is a handsome British writer/scholar who gets swept up in the lavish world of Mrs. Spencer and Lord Egremont, one of Turner’s patrons, and meets Turner around the time he painted The Center of the World. Cornelius Rhinebeck, an American industrialist, savors the Turner painting in his upstate New York country home in the 1920s. Gina, an ambitious young woman, who works for a New York-based fine arts consultancy in the late naughts, goes on a search to find the painting. And Henry Leiden, an unassuming middle-aged New Jersey man, has his life turned around by The Center of the World.

I deeply enjoyed this book. It explores the themes of art, sexuality, beauty, marriage and servitude/patronage. It is told in multiple voices and while it took me a little while to settle into, and find myself, in all the stories, once I did, I was completely drawn in. Van Essen also interweaves e-mails, letters, an obituary, a 19th-century memoir and a transcript into the story. I am not a big reader of historical fiction, but I found the 19th century scenes, mainly set in Lord Egremont’s Petworth House, to be vivid and engaging while enjoying how the story was also grounded in the present.

Van Essen lives in New Jersey. Amazon did an interview with him about this debut novel. For those of you in the Boston area, he will on an Author Panel at the Boston Public Library on July 30th.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.


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5 responses to “The Center of the World, by Thomas Van Essen

  1. Dock Oscar

    I enjoyed this book as well. I read mostly nonfiction (history) but I found this book believable and engaging. The author did a great job with the different voices and stories in the book, quite seamless. I think this book would also appeal to those who like Downton Abbey and this novel does a great job of illustrating the fading days of Lords and great houses.

  2. I am so glad you also enjoyed this book. And good point about it appealing to those who liked Downton Abbey. The scenes with Lord Egremont evoked that world to me as well.

  3. louise crawford

    I started reading this book two days ago and find it hard to put down. The author really does interweave the stories into an interesting mystery that, I bet, can have only one outcome. Louise Crawford.

  4. Pingback: Book Giveaway – Thomas Van Essen’s The Center of the World | Proto Libro

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