Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The True Picture by Alison Habens

The True Picture by Alison Habens
Self published in 2015.

One of my Top Ten Books of 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing is known about the real St Veronica. She’s never mentioned in the bible but appears at the sixth Station of the Cross. 
True – Vera, Picture – Icon: Veronica might be a myth but in ‘the true picture’ she is a glamorous dye-dealer from ancient Tyre, an ex-temple dancer with a dark past, who gives up the purple trade, a towering hairstyle and all her jewellery, to follow Jesus to Jerusalem in around AD 33. 
Her story is closely based on gospel history but with a quirky modern twist! 

I received a copy of The True Picture via its author, Alison Habens, who contacted me on Twitter asking if I would be interested in reading her book to review. I wasn't sure at first as the cover art led me to expect a certain style of 'Life of the Saints' Christian novel. My impression could not have been more wrong, however, and I am delighted to have taken a chance on what turned out to be a great historical novel.

I saw my first Stations Of The Cross - a series of images depicting the Christian crucifixion story - in Cullera earlier this year. One showed a woman, Saint Veronica, about whom practically nothing is known historically. Habens has imagined her a life in which a career as a temple-dancer and songstress for Venus is viciously cut short, and a privileged position as saleswoman in the prosperous family business leads to her meeting a charismatic travelling man.

I loved the character of Veronica. She has a certain world-weariness, but is also vivacious, determined and proud of her status as a Roman businesswoman in the city of Tyre. Her shop selling purple-dyed fabric trim to the upper echelons of society has made her rich so we learn about her fashionable clothing and towering hairstyles. Habens vividly describes the sounds, fragrances, brilliant colours and mingling cultures of Roman life in energetic prose. She manages to keep up this energy throughout the novel, making The True Picture a truly exciting read. Her clever melding of italicised latin words with modern-day slang expressions is nicely done to evoke the historical setting and to show her characters as people with whom I could easily identify.

We learn of the arrival of Jesus through Veronica's eyes, learn how she is smitten by him yet is uncertain about throwing over her traditional gods, and how she sets out - alone and in totally inappropriate footwear - to follow him. Her learning to trust again is sensitively handled, as are the changing relationships with her sister and friends. The solidarity engendered by long distance walking rang true with me as did Veronica's thrill at being involved in the start of a something new. I appreciated the almost incidental inclusion of Biblical events and stories. Veronica might be at the back of the crowd or catching up with a gossipy chat, so The True Picture is always her tale, not simply a rehash of gospel stories. We also meet people harmed by their connection with Jesus' life - the woman whose son was murdered by soldiers is a memorable image - which adds a poignant depth to the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed The True Picture and will no doubt be 'singing its praises' for a long time to come. I would highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction, journey stories and tales of strong sassy heroines.

Etsy Find!
by Maria Santissima Shop in
Lisbon, Portugal

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Books by Alison Habens / Historical fiction / Books from England


  1. This sounds fantastic! I probably would have skipped over this one based on the cover but it does sound like it is worth a read. Thanks for putting this one on my radar!

    1. The cover art is kind of appropriate, but I feel does the story a mis-service. It is the story of a saint, but not told in the dry and overly respectful way one would imagine from that depiction of Veronica