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Two artists, separated by centuries, search for peace…

When artist Stephen Bloodsmith creates a series of images inspired by Rubens' trip to London in 1629, he enters a historical world of suspicion and intrigue. But will the manipulations he portrays in art spill over into the real world? When he practises deception inside his own marriage, falling in love with his model even as the romance of his wife Robyn unravels, the corrosive parallels between Bloodsmith's and Rubens' lives – the discovery of intimate secrets, the pain caused by desire and jealousy, the consequences of power and conflict – become hard to live with and impossible to ignore.

Rubens believed he could make peace between the warring powers of Europe. To succeed he must win over Charles I of England, while in Paris 'the Cardinal' is working to frustrate him. Will nation cheat nation as people deceive one another in their personal lives?

At once an intimate portrait of sexual pain in two centuries, and a gripping depiction of international 'deal-making', Pax is a rich, compelling study of desire, power, art – and the necessity of finding peace.


Reading a draft of Pax, still in work, the novelist CELIA DALE commented:

'I'm rather bowled over by this (I think) brilliant novel in which the extramarital affair between a black model, Mae, and a married painter, Stephen, runs parallel with Rubens's journey to the court of Charles the First as an emissary of the Spanish court, during which he paints his huge allegorical painting Peace and War. I don't think I've read so vivid a description of painting, the painter's eye, technique, concentration -- both from Stephen, with his stark modern style (and fascinating etching courses at the art school where he teaches) and Rubens, with his lush visions and techniques amid the homely London family with whom he lodges. His models are blonde, white, overflowing: Stephen's is the lean, angular black Mae, married to an Englishman we never meet… The mutual guilts, regrets, love are beautifully dissected, slowly, painfully: while Rubens too yearns and worries: both of them always paint. It is extraordinarily perceptive, humanly and artistically, and beautifully judged, the light against the dark, the lush against the spare, the techniques against the instinctive reflexes. I would like to know how this tremendous novel fares.'


‘Harvey, who is fascinated by the creative process involved in the making of art, finds the perfect subject in Rubens' painting 'Peace and War' and its themes that intrigue and inspire a contemporary artist. The result is a many-layered novel, impressively skilful and deeply absorbing.’ ANITA DESAI

‘Harvey’s profound understanding of the physical processes in the making of art enrich this, his fifth novel… PAX is beautifully written, in language as vivid as the paintings described – and is a gripping read.’ KATHERINE MEZZACAPPA, Historical Novel Society, 91 (February 2020)

‘At one level, a gripping wartime/espionage thriller… Harvey’s sensually pungent, multiple-strand narrative shows how Stephen Bloodsmith’s imaginative immersion in the historical Caroline London transforms his Twenty-First Century lived experience.’  SIMON LAVERY, Tredynas Days

‘This is the story of desire, not just sexual desire but the desire for power. There's art, politics and lots of intrigue. Beautifully written, almost poetic and a marvellous piece of historical fiction’ , The Bookwormery, 7 December 2019

‘Artist Stephen Bloodsmith has two obsessions: his beautiful enigmatic model Mae and the surprising diplomatic visit by the great Flemish painter Rubens to London in 1629. Harvey’s interweaving of the 21st and 17th centuries through Stephen's print series on that visit is very original and successful. Both Mae and Rubens emerge as brilliantly realised characters. I quite fell in love with Mae, and Rubens’ warm humanity shines out. Plus one learns effortlessly a lot about the processes of making art (clearly the author has experience here) and Rubens’ historic peace mission.’  5 star review by ‘A Kindle Reader’,

‘A brilliant exploration of desire, betrayal, ambivalence and loss’,

‘Did Van Dyck have affair with much younger wife of Rubens?’, The Daily Telegraph, 28 October 2019.

‘Smile that suggests an Old Masters love triangle’, The Times, 28 October 2019.

In a generous letter about PAX – which he is happy for me to quote -- my former literary agent, now retired, Mike Shaw of Curtis Brown, writes: ‘I am full of admiration for PAX. It is sharp, powerful and effective writing, full of interest and fresh insight. Above all it is full of humanity and emotional intelligence with some spare but elegant writing. Bravo!…You capture the period brilliantly, the weirdness of the period and its richness; sumptuous lyrical writing and such well-observed human emotions, gliding past the obvious so swiftly that we see them in the corner of the eye. You write clearly, wisely, un-mawkishly about love & pain & intrigue.’

ISBN: 978-1-910688-87-8
Format: Hardback
Price: 16.99
Category: Fiction-Literary/Historical, pp: 368

For all inquiries contact Robert Peett:, 01635 36527

Publication date: 7 November 2019

John Harvey podcasts: PAX and The Subject of a Portrait

Holland House Books have produced a series of podcasts in which John Harvey discusses his separate novels. This podcast explores the common themes of the two novels PAX and The Subject of a Portrait.

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